June 25, 2012
Supreme Court Action Today: Immigration, Finally!, Sentencing Children, and State Campaign Finance Laws
The Supreme Court issued three opinions this morning. The health care case was not one of them. The Court, however, stated that the term will end Thursday, so the wait for that case will be short. The blockbuster immigration case pitting state’s rights against the federal power to preempt state law came out mostly in favor of the federal government. The case is Arizona v. United States (11-182).
Four sections of Arizona’s controversial S.B 1070 law were at issue. These are:
- Section 3: Making it a state misdemeanor for failure to comply with federal alien-registration requirements;
- Section 5(C): Making it a state misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in Arizona;
- Section 6: Authorizing state and local officers to arrest without a warrant an individual the officer has probable cause to believe that individual has committed a public offense making that person removable from the United States;
- Section 2(B) requiring officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to verify the person’s immigration status.
The District Court issued a preliminary injunction that barred enforcement of these provisions and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court agreed that the first three were preempted by the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power” to regulate naturalization as derived from the Constitution, Art. I, §8, cl. 4, and the Government’s inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations. Those powers give the Government broad discretion in exercising removals.
The Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law when a statute contains a express preemption provision. Two other justifications apply: when Congress has determined that a particular field must be governed exclusively by federal law, or when State law conflicts with federal law to the point where State law stands as an obstacle to the execution of that law or frustrates the purposes and objectives of that law.
Congress has left no room for States to regulate the area of alien-registration. Section 3 fails under the Court’s analysis. Section 5(C)’s criminal penalties conflicts with the federal regulatory system. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) imposes criminal penalties on employers and civil penalties on aliens seeking unauthorized employments. IRCA’s preemption provisions do not speak on whether additional penalties may be assessed. The Court states that the statute does not prevent the application standard preemption principles. The text, structure, and history of the law indicate that Congress decided additional criminal penalties are inappropriate. Section 5(C) is an obstacle to IRCA. The arrest power under §6 is an obstacle to the federal regulatory scheme as well. It would provide state officers with greater arrest authority with no instruction from the Federal Government. State agents may work with federal officials in apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens. Federal law does not, however, give state officers unilateral power to detain individuals.
Section 2(B) survives because state courts have not had an opportunity to construe its application and because it contains three express limitations on its application. A detainee is presumed not to be an illegal alien with the proper identification; racial profiling is not allowed except to the extent permitted by the State and Federal Constitutions; and the section’s provisions must be implemented consistent with federal law. State agents consult with federal agents under the regulatory scheme in place and the mandatory consultation requirement does not upset that scheme. The Court specifically stated that §2(B) can be challenged later if it is applied in a way that violates the Constitution or federal immigration law.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Kagan did not participate in the case. Justice Scalia’s opinion singles out for criticism the President’s recent announcement of a suspension of certain aspects of immigration enforcement. He questions whether state would join the union, he says, if the Court’s ruling were in the Constitution.
The second case is Miller v. Alabama (10-9646). It consolidates two cases, one from Alabama and one from Arkansas where a 14-year-old was convicted of murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment with no possibility for parole. The question is whether these outcomes violate the Eight Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. The state appellate courts in both cases said no. The Supreme Court disagreed and said that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme mandating life in prison without possibility for parole for juvenile homicide offenders.
The Court examines two lines of cases to come to its conclusion. One line has banned sentencing practices based on the mismatches between culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of the punishment. These cases dealing specifically with juveniles are concerned with their lesser culpability. Case law interprets the Eight Amendment to prohibit capital punishment for children and life without parole for non-capital cases. In this situation, life without parole is likened to the death penalty. The second line of cases requires sentencing authorities to consider the characteristics of a defendant and the details of the crime before imposing a death sentence. The analysis of these cases leads to the conclusion that the Eight Amendment applies here.
The State argued that there is a consensus among the states with 29 of them having the same statutory scheme authorizing life without parole for juveniles. The Court rejected the argument noting that decisions by prosecutors and judges which transfer juvenile offenders to adult court sometimes has the effect of a light or severe punishment depending on the decision and the state transfer scheme. The Court said that the inconsistency in the approach questioned whether a legislature had endorsed a given penalty for a juvenile offender.
Justice Kagan wrote for the majority joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice Sotomayor. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Scalia. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Scalia. In this day of social media, it could be said that Justice Scalia friended all of the dissents. Justice Thomas, by the way, viewed the Eight Amendment as only covering torturous methods of punishment. 14 year-olds were subject to trial and punishment as adult offenders at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. Mandatory life imprisonment would hardly be seemed cruel and unusual at that time.
The third case is American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock (11-1179). It’s a Per Curiam decision that applies the holding of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to the states. As the Court states, “There can be no serious doubt that it does.” Perhaps not, though Justice Breyer dissents, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. That makes it 5-4. (The original post read 6-3. Thanks to all who noticed.) [MG]