June 25, 2012
Supreme Court's Split Decision on Arizona's SB1070
The Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated opinion in Arizona v. United States on the constitutionality of controversial state immigration statute SB 1070. The over all issue, recall, is whether the state law is preempted by the federal statutory immigration law and thus invalid under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, Article VI.
The majority - - - Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor - - - affirmed in part and reversed in part the Ninth Circuit opinion upholding the district court's preliminary injunction against specific provisions of SB 1070.
The Courthad granted the petition for writ of certiorari on four provisions:
- Section 2(B): requires every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested, or detained if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country unlawfully;
- Section 3: criminalizes the failure to carry an “alien registration document;'"
- Section 5(C): criminalizes undocumented immigrants applying for employment or being employed;
- Section 6: authorizes warrantless arrests if based upon probable cause that a person has committed a deportable crime.
The majority held that Sections 3, 5(C), and 6 of S. B. 1070 are preempted by federal law, but that the controversial 2(B) was not.
On Section 3, the Court applied complete field preemption, holding that even complementary state regulation unconstitutionally intrudes.
On Section 5(C) and 6, the Court held that the state provisions operated as obstacles to the federal statutory scheme.
Upholding Section 2, the Court essentially held that without state courts having an opportunity to further construe the provision, the record was too incomplete to determine whether or not the provision conflicted with federal law.
Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito each wrote separate dissents. Justice Elana Kagan did not participate.
The Opinion of the Court is relatively brief at 25 pages. For an opinion by Justice Kennedy (dare I say), it is unusually well-structured. The discussion of pre-emption principles is setting out express preemption, then pervasive field preemption and conflict (obstacle) preemption, including the Court's most recent preemption opinion, Whiting, which it will later distinguish (and which was joked about as decisively precedential by Justice Roberts at oral argument, who interestingly joins Kennedy's opinion).
Then it considers each provision, providing some but not overwhelming detail, regarding the conflict. Most controversially (and lengthily), the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that Section 2(B) was preempted, focusing both on the mandatory status checks (– colloquially known as the “show me your papers” provision – ) and the possibility of prolonged detention. However, the majority stated that Section 2(b) could be read to avoid the concerns of conflict and offered some hypos:
To take one example, a person might be stopped for jaywalking in Tucson and be unable to produce identification. The first sentence of §2(B) instructs officers to make a “reasonable” attempt to verify his immigration status with ICE if there is reasonable suspicion that his presence in the United States is unlawful. The state courts may conclude that, unless the person continues to be suspected of some crime for which he may be detained by state officers, it would not be reasonable to prolong the stop for the immigration inquiry. [citations omitted].
To take another example, a person might be held pending release on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. As this goes beyond a mere stop, the arrestee (unlike the jaywalker) would appear to be subject to the categorical requirement in the second sentence of §2(B) that “[a]ny person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before [he] is released.” State courts may read this as an instruction to initiate a status check every time someone is arrested, or in some subset of those cases, rather than as a command to hold the person until the check is complete no matter the circumstances. Even if the law is read as an instruction to complete a check while the person is in custody, moreover, it is not clear at this stage and on this record that the verification process would result in prolonged detention.
For some, these "could be read" passages suggest that only upon a narrow construction would Section 2(B) be upheld.
Not surprisingly dissenting, Justice Scalia would have upheld SB1070, and stressed the historical precedent that would allow states as sovereigns to exclude all aliens from their states. His use of history here will most likely be criticized by some legal historians of the Early Republic. In a statement sure to provoke more controversy, he referred to President Obama’s statement regarding young non-citizens, saying “The President said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administra tion’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.” He closed by repeating Paul Clement’s claim that “Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem.”
Thomas' briefly opined that even "assuming the existence of some tension" between SB1070 and the federal scheme, it did not merit preemption. Alito's much longer opinion agreed with the Court that 2(B) was not preempted, and interestingly agreed that Section 3 (colloquially known as the carry your papers provision) was preempted. He "part[ed] ways" on §5(C) and §6, arguing that Congress was not sufficiently clear on its desire to preempt a provision regarding employment and that §6 "adds virtually nothing to the authority that Arizona law enforcement officers already exercise."
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"Unusually well-structured" was pretty much my thought too, almost verbatim. Also notable for a controversial Kennedy opinion - no brand new, troublingly vague preemption standard.
Posted by: Alek Felstiner | Jun 25, 2012 12:57:37 PM