Earlier today the Supreme Court handed down their highly anticipated decision on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1070, better known as the Arizona immigration law. The high court upheld one of the provisions and struck down the other three in a 5-3 decision. Justice Kennedy delivered the majority opinion of the Court with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor signing on, while Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Kagan did not take part in the ruling on this case.
The Court upheld the central provision of the bill, which allows state and local police to check the immigration status of people they stop who they suspect to be illegally residing in the country. However, they struck down provisions that would criminalize the ability of immigrants without work permits to seek employment, criminalize the failure of immigrants to carry registration documents, and allow the police to arrest any immigrant that they believe committed an offense that warrants deportation, citing the supremacy of federal immigration laws over state immigration laws as their reasoning for striking down these provisions.
Scalia's Scathing Dissent
Although concurring with the majority on their decision to uphold the central provision of the law, Justice Scalia wrote a fiery dissent arguing in favor of upholding the entire law. Responding to Obama's recent proclamation last week that his administration will unilaterally decide to stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants despite federal law to the contrary, Scalia was quick to point out that the Arizona law did not run contrary to federal immigration law, but rather sought to enforce it in the absence of the federal government doing its job. Some of the harshest remarks from his dissent are below:
"The Government complains that state officials might not heed 'federal priorities.' Indeed they might not, particularly if those priorities include willful blindness or deliberate inattention to the presence of removable aliens in Arizona. The State's whole complaint—the reason this law was passed and this case has arisen—is that the citizens of Arizona believe federal priorities are too lax. The State has the sovereign power to protect its borders more rigorously if it wishes, absent any valid federal prohibition. The Executive's policy choice of lax federal enforcement does not constitute such a prohibition."
"Must Arizona's ability to protect its borders yield to the reality that Congress has provided inadequate funding for federal enforcement—or, even worse, to the Executive's unwise targeting of that funding?"
“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.”
"But there has come to pass, and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the States that support it predicted: A Federal Government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the States' borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude. So the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the Nation's immigration laws?"
President Obama's Reaction
Although the administration challenged the law only on the basis of its violation of federal supremacy and not on civil rights grounds, in an obvious ploy for Latino votes, Obama's statement on the provision that was upheld said that "We must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans." This obvious attempt by the president to play on the fears of Hispanics comes after his unilateral decision to not enforce current immigration laws and his speech last week to Hispanic officials.
With the administration in full campaign mode, it is clear they will stop at nothing to try to win over the large Hispanic voting blocks in the battleground states of Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, even if it means putting our borders at risk by not enforcing federal law in exchange for some cheap political gain.
However, the Obama campaign might want to pause before hailing this decision largely a victory: a new Rasmussen poll states that 55% of likely voters wanted the Supreme Court to uphold the Arizona law.