On April 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against key and controversial provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070, the law enacted nearly a year ago that requires police to demand proof of immigration status from anyone who they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally. The court thus denied Arizona’s appeal of a U.S. district court’s July ruling that prevented segments of the law from going into effect because it was likely that the law violated the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, and significantly, the decision signals that the appeals court believes that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is likely to succeed in its challenge to the law’s constitutionality.

SB 1070 is the draconian state immigration law that was signed into law on April 23, 2010, after Arizona state legislators argued that they needed their own immigration enforcement tools to stem the tide of undocumented immigration into the state. Federal efforts, the state argued, were not enough. The law immediately sparked nationwide boycotts and protests as an unconstitutional attempt to usurp the federal government’s right to enact and control immigration law and as a way to set the stage for abusive and illegal police activity, including profiling. DOJ sued and won an injunction on June 29, 2010, the day before the law was originally set to go into effect.

In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit rightly rejected Arizona’s claim that state police have “inherent authority” to enforce federal immigration laws; in fact, the court held that Arizona’s attempt to drive immigrants from the state interferes with the federal government’s exclusive authority to enforce immigration law. Congress, the court held, intended state officers to “aid in immigration enforcement only under the close supervision of the Attorney General,” which was not the case here. The court also recognized that the SB 1070 has negatively impacted U.S. foreign relations and reflects the dangers of allowing states to enact a patchwork quilt of conflicting laws and regulations. In the immediate aftermath of SB1070’s enactment, a number of states considered or introduced copycat bills, but most states have now backed away from these measures.

While the fate of SB 1070 is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court, for now the court’s decision is a victory not only for the Obama Administration in its ongoing effort to halt the Arizona law, but also for equal justice and the rule of law.

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