Washington, D.C. is abuzz this week, the final one of the Supreme Court’s term, by the end of which the court will have published two monumental opinions affecting millions of Americans. In a moment viewed by some with eager anticipation and others with reluctant apprehension, today the court handed down its decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070.
The court was tasked with determining the constitutionality of four of the law’s provisions, specifically whether federal law preempted their enforcement. By a 5-3 margin, the justices declared three aspects of the law invalid while letting the fourth–arguably the law’s centerpiece–stand, at least for the time being.
That fourth provision allows law enforcement officers to inquire into the immigration status of anyone they arrest as long as they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. Arizona will be allowed to implement this provision. But the possibility of racial profiling lingers over this part of the law, and the court left the door open for future legal challenges if police apply it unfairly.
One of the three unconstitutional provisions was a measure permitting law enforcement officers to arrest those they suspected were illegal immigrants. The other two were criminal sanctions. Under S.B. 1070, Arizona had made it a crime if immigrants sought employment without proper documentation or did not have paperwork on their person describing their immigration status.
While the court ruled on only one state’s immigration law, the decision has a national effect. Not only does it underscore the federal government’s immigration policies, but it also defines the constitutional boundaries for other states that had passed or were considering their own immigration legislation.
Source: The Washington Post, “Supreme Court upholds key part of Arizona for now; strikes down other provisions,” Robert Barnes, June 25, 2012.