DENVER–The Supreme Court upheld Monday a key provision in Arizona’s landmark immigration law, prompting Arizona Republicans to declare victory and the Obama administration to retaliate by cutting off cooperation with Arizona authorities.
The high court struck down three sections of the law, known as Senate Bill 1070, but affirmed the constitutionality of Section 2B, which requires police to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants during a lawful stop.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the decision “a victory for the rule of law,” noting that after two years of legal wrangling, “the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it would rein in the ability of Arizona and states with similar laws to make immigration-related arrests by suspending its 287(g) program, which allows federal authorities to deputize local officials to make immigration-related arrests.
The Obama administration sued to block the law shortly after it was signed by Brewer in 2010. In a statement Monday, President Obama said he was “pleased” that the court had struck down parts of the law but “concerned” about the survival of Section 2B.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” said Obama. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the court’s decision recognizes.”
The president said that federal immigration authorities would “continue to enforce our immigration laws by focusing on our most important priorities like border security and criminals who endanger our communities, and not, for example students who earn their education.”
Earlier this month, the president announced that Homeland Security would no longer deport illegal aliens under the age of 30 who were brought to the United States as children.
The administration’s move outraged some Republicans, including former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who said the court decision is “irrelevant as long as the federal government refuses to enforce the law.”
Arizona police may report the presence of illegal aliens, but only Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] has the authority to deport them.
“The Dictator in Chief has already decided he not only enforces, but makes or repeals all laws in America,” said Tancredo in an email. “Arizona can only report illegals to ICE and ask them to deport. Arizona can’t deport anyone. ICE will tell them to pound sand.”
The Supreme Court voted unanimously to uphold the law’s status-check provision, while a 5-3 majority ruled against the law’s other sections, including provisions that would have required immigrants to carry proof of their status, and another barring illegal immigrants from seeking work.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that only the federal government may enforce immigration laws.
“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration,” said Justice Kennedy, “but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at the idea that Arizona is forbidden from enforcing immigration laws in the absence of federal enforcement. Justices Samuel Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas also filed dissenting opinions.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because she had worked on the matter in her previous role as Solicitor General.
“[T]o 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,” Scalia said.
The decision came as a bittersweet victory for former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the sponsor of S.B. 1070, who lost a recall election in November organized by foes of the law.
“It’s a huge win for Arizona and state’s rights,” said Pearce, who’s now running to win back the Senate seat. “Was it worth the recall? Absolutely. If being recalled is the price for defense of country, defense of the rule of law, defense of state’s rights, I’ll pay it any day.”
ProgressNow Colorado executive director Joanne Schwartz framed the decision as a win for the Obama administration, saying that the ruling shows that “immigration policy and enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government–but more importantly that basic constitutional protections still apply in America.”
Congressman Jared Polis was less enthusiastic, praising the court for invalidating “the bulk of Arizona’s discredited anti-immigrant law,” but expressing disappointment over the court’s decision to uphold Section 2B.
“While the Court regrettably upheld the ‘show-me-your-papers’ provision, this ruling makes clear that we must have one federal law that finally fixes our broken immigration system,” said the Colorado Democrat in a statement.
Five states–Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah–have adopted so-called Arizona immigration copycat laws. Colorado Republicans proposed similar legislation in the 2011 session, but state Rep. Randy Baumgardner pulled his bill in order to wait for a court ruling on the constitutionality of the Arizona law.
Schwartz said in her statement that “many Republicans in our legislature should be ashamed after repeatedly attempting to import copies of Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation to our state.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle used Monday’s decision to resume calls for federal immigration reform.
“[W]e cannot fully address the issue of illegal immigration with a patchwork of different laws across the country,” said Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in a statement. “Congress needs to act on comprehensive immigration reform.”