Supreme Court’s Decision Partial Victory for Obama

Photo of Carlos A. Maycotte

On the last week of the current term, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the watershed case of Arizona v. United States, granting the Obama administration a partial victory over the state of Arizona and its efforts to expand the enforcement of undocumented immigration.

The case, which has deep ramifications for other states that have recently passed laws relating to immigration enforcement, involved a challenge to an Arizona statute looking to regulate immigration beyond the scope of the Federal government’s own guidelines. Arizona S.B. 1070 aimed to (1) criminalize under state law the failure of immigrants to register with the federal government; (2) criminalize under state law any efforts by undocumented immigrants to work or to try to find work; (3) allow for the arrest without a warrant of any people whom state police suspect, with probable cause, of having committed a crime that would make them deportable; and (4) requiring state police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if the officer has any reason to believe the person might be in the country illegally.

In a 5-3 vote (Justice Kagan did not participate, as she worked on the case as solicitor general), the Court struck down the first three provisions on federal preemption grounds. The Court did not overturn the fourth provision — the controversial “show your papers” rule — but construed it very narrowly and specifically noted that it was not yet considering challenges to it based on civil rights arguments, but that it would be open to such arguments in the future.

As dozens of pundits weigh in on the political, social, and legal implications of the decision, Gov. Jan Brewer and other elected officials from Arizona hailed the decision as a victory due to the survival of its most controversial provision. On the other hand, the bulk of the law was rejected and the decision is arguably a massive victory for the Obama administration. Linda Greenhouse, longtime Supreme Court reporter, wrote that it is “pellucidly clear from the dissenting opinions of Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. that Arizona lost big and that the decision amounted not to the split decision of early news reports but a major reaffirmation of federal authority.” Ultimately, the impact of the law will rest on how courts decide claims that the law is causing the systemic and discriminatory targeting of Latinos, although it will take years before those cases are resolved.


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