The nation’s high court ruled this morning that Arizona can require state and local police to check the immigration status of those they have stopped.
In a split opinion, the Supreme Court rejected arguments by the Obama administration that the provision of SB 1070, approved by lawmakers two years ago, illegally intrudes into the exclusive power of the federal government to regulate immigration. The majority said U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton should not have enjoined the law until state courts had an opportunity to review it and see how it would be implemented.
But the justices did conclude that other provisions of the 2010 law are preempted by federal statutes, including making it a state crime for those not in the country legally to seek employment.
Today’s decision is not likely to be the last word, even about what foes have dubbed the “papers, please” provision.
This case involved solely the issue of conflicts with federal law. There are several other lawsuits still pending before Bolton who issued the original injunction against SB 1070 which raise different constitutional arguments.
And today’s ruling says only that the parts of the law upheld, on their face, are legal. That still leaves the possibility for what lawyers call an “as applied” challenge, meaning that the way the statute is being enforced violates someone’s rights.
In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion for the court, said he and his colleagues want Arizona courts to specifically address some of those concerns.
Kennedy said, for example, someone might be stopped for jaywalking in Tucson and be unable to produce identification.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said SB 1070 requires officers to make a “reasonable” attempt to verify that person’s immigration status with federal officials if there is reasonable suspicion that person is in the country illegally.
“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,” he wrote.
In fact, Kennedy suggested the Obama administration brought the challenge to that section far too early, even before the law took effect.
“There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced,” he wrote.
“At this stage, without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume (that section) will be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law.”
In a prepared statement, Gov. Jan Brewer pointed out that after SB 1070 was approved in 2010 she directed the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to come up with materials “to ensure our officers are prepared to enforce this law efficiently, effectively and in a matter consistent with the Constitution.” Those materials were updated earlier this month in anticipation of today’s ruling.
Further, many Arizona police agencies already routinely check the immigration status of people they stop for traffic infractions. After SB 1070 passed, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik noted that the law changed nothing for his department because the Border Patrol was already being notified when a driver was unable to prove citizenship or show the proper immigration documents to deputies during traffic stops. In the months after the ruling videos of motorists facing extra scrutiny by immigration agents during stops by Tucson police were being posted on the Internet. Tucson police have said officers turn over people to immigration officials depending on how busy the officer is and the availability of agents.
In March, Dupnik, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor and former Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris joined colleagues from across the country in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court expressing their opposition to the state’s immigration-enforcement law.
The brief centered on the law’s requirement that officers — while enforcing other laws — question the immigration status of those they suspect of being in the country illegally.
The police bosses said the requirement would jeopardize community cooperation in investigating crimes.
Brewer acknowledged the remaining challenges for the law.
“Our critics are already preparing new litigation tactics in response to their loss at the Supreme Court today, and undoubtedly will allege inequities in the implementation of the law,” she said. Brewer said that make it all the more important that the provision of SB 1070 the court did allow to take effect is not abused.
“We cannot give them that chance,” she said. “We must use this new tool wisely, and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves.”
Stay tuned to Starnet for updates.