Supreme Court Decision Renders Arizona Immigration Law a Toothless Tiger

The Supreme Court gave judicial aid to the government’s effort to assert federal supremacy over immigration policy by jettisoning three of the four major provisions in Arizona’s hotly debated SB 1070 immigration law, leaving intact the state’s ability to instruct police officers to investigate a suspect’s immigration status in the course of official duties.

Other portions of SB 1070 were found to be inconsistent with federal rules for state action on immigration, including a section of the law making it a crime for undocumented workers to seek employment in Arizona; the so-called “papers please” provision requiring immigrants to produce documentation to verify their residency; and the authorization of police to execute warrantless arrests of those suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

Despite the setback, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called the ruling “a victory for the rule of law,” adding, “After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution,” according to a statement.

But every heart needs its arteries; and the arterial provisions of the law that pumped life into the ability of authorities to inquire about a suspect’s immigration status have been rendered non-starters via the Court’s 5-3 decision.

The Court held that criminalizing the failure to register as an immigrant with federal authorities and the requirement to carry papers proving registration, “intrudes on the field of alien registration … which Congress has left no room for States to regulate,” according to the decision.

Moreover, making it unlawful for the undocumented to seek work in the state “stands as an obstacle to the federal regulatory system,” which has only punished companies – not workers – for unlawful employment.

Lastly, the Court ruled that the warrantless arrest provision encroaches on the deference given to federal authorities on when to arrest undocumented immigrants. “As a general rule,” the opinion reads, “it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States. The federal scheme instructs when it is appropriate to arrest an alien during the removal process.”

So, now what?

Politically speaking, it is a victory for the White House. But today’s ruling will only galvanize conservatives who support Arizona-style measures and the president will continue to preach to the choir on an issue his base already supports.

Mitt Romney, who is in Arizona today, must explain how he will approach immigration differently minus his oft-repeated claims that Obama has failed on the issue.

For undocumented immigrants, the ruling means some relief from living in the cross hairs of local authorities, albeit with the possibility of increased racial profiling. Brewer, however, promises the policy will be carried out with respect to laws “against both illegal immigration and racial profiling,” according to her statement.

With that said, the remaining portion of the law relegates it to being little more than a toothless tiger unfortunately allowing authorities to harass the “melanated,” but lacking the draconian provisions that would have yielded willy-nilly arrests, jail time for those seeking to make a living and Gestapo-like requirements to carry your papers – or else.