The Supreme Court released its ruling in Arizona v. United States today, which dealt with the federal government’s challenge to the state’s controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070, which gave local law enforcement enhanced rights to police the immigration status of individuals and essentially forced immigrants to carry papers with them showing that they are legally in the country. The court issued a decision that struck down portions of the law while allowing others to remain in effect. The court held that federal law does not preempt Arizona’s instruction to law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they detain. It is important to note, however, that this ruling does leave open the possibility that this particular provision could be reviewed and ultimately struck down if its enforcement is allegedly being done in a discriminatory fashion.
In this opinion, the Court also pushed back against the tactics of the Arizona legislature, the first of several states to put policies like SB 1070 into place. In the Court’s decision, which fell at 5-3 (with Justice Kagan not taking part), Anthony Kennedy writes “the national government has significant power to regulate immigration” and that Arizona or others “may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” Thus, while not striking down the heart of the law, the Court handed a considerable victory to the Obama administration. The decision also supports and reinforces the role of Congress, not individual states, as the arbiters and sources of immigration policy. Of course, Congress has refused to act in any meaningful way on immigration for many years. This decision should be taken by Congress as a directive to act affirmatively on immigration matters – failure to do so will only result in more states trying to regulate it themselves and will leave our nation with an even more fractured immigration policy than that which we currently have.