SCOTUS SB 1070 Decision: Major Portions of Arizona Immigration Law Struck Down

UPDATE: On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government on 3 out of the 4 major issues, most notably declaring that the Arizona immigration law SB 1070 pre-empted (trumped) federal law. The court rejected the parts of the law that: 1) Make it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to possess their federal registration cards; 2) Make it a crime for illegal immigration to work, apply for work or solicit work; 3) Allow state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant when probably cause exists that they committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”

The only issue that the Court did not decide was the provision which requires officers to check the immigration status of individuals subsequent to a lawful arrest. This was left to the state courts to interpret further. There is a chance that if the state courts interpret the "status check" provision too broadly, that it will make its way back to SCOTUS as early as next term. The Court suggested that the interpretation would have to be narrow to survive.

The month of June has been an important one for immigration reform and has raised issues that question the very foundations of the U.S. Constitution. Beginning with President Obama’s executive order to the approaching Supreme Court decision on the legality of Arizona’s SB 1070, the immigration problem is beginning to resemble a modern day remake of the ratification debate between the federalists and anti-federalists in 1780's America.

For the past year, the Supreme Court has been examining Arizona’s immigration law, specifically if the legislation violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution which states that “laws that conflict with federal law are without effect.”

According to legal experts, the SCOTUS will more than likely rule that it is indeed within Arizona's right to to enforce existing federal immigration and border laws. Should this prediction come to fruition, enforcing SB 1070 will of course contradict Obama's executive order and raise crucial questions about policy responsibility and enforcement between states and federal governments.

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States once said, "[The Supreme Court] has made its decision, now let them enforce it." In response to Governor Jan Brewer's (R) state executive order on Tuesday, June 12, instructing the re-issuing of a training DVD to all law enforcement agencies containing details on how SB 1070 will be implemented, President Obama announced his executive order on Friday of the same week granting between 800,000 and 1 million undocumented youth protection from deportation and access to work permits. 

These developments lead us to the rhetorical question of, what happens now? Throughout American history, states have fought to limit the hand of the federal government in their internal affairs. From the Articles of Confederation to the desegregation years and  beyond, states have typically preferred maintaining some level of sovereignty from the ever overreaching arm of the federal government. While the state of Arizona has a legitimate claim in passing SB 1070, given the systematic influx of undocumented immigrants in the state, it has devised a law so large in scope that it would be difficult to implement without stepping into the jurisdiction of the federal government and/or violating certain protections provided under the U.S. Constitution. 

Regardless of the decision reached by the Supreme Court, unless Obama is ousted come November or Congress finally passes legislation that fully addresses immigration reform, states like Arizona will have to work with the cards they have been dealt. Being up for re-election in the fall, Jan Brewer has found herself in a political impasse that will test her willingness to stand on principle or fold under pressure.