Today in a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court struck down three of the four major portions of Arizona’s immigration law. Arizona passed legislation that, among other things, allowed police to stop people that they had a suspicion could be illegal immigrants, check immigration papers on stops, and demand that all immigrants carry their papers with them at all times.

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down three major pieces of the troubled legislation. First, the Court struck down the authorization the legislation gave local authorities to arrest alleged immigrants where “probable cause” exists that they are in the country illegally. This was a major piece of the legislation that garnered opposition at it seemed to give local authorities the power to stop and arrest any individuals that might be in the country illegally based on sight alone. Thus, opponents argued, they could stop any person that was of Latino heritage and claim justification by the law. Opponents argued this was
profiling in documents filed with the Court.

The Court also struck down a provision that made it a state crime for immigrants’ failure to carry registration papers with them at all time. The Court did not stop there, striking down the provision that forbid all illegal immigrants from soliciting or performing work in this country. The Court focused these decisions on how Arizona was preempted by federal law when it comes to immigration. Essentially, preemption requires that the federal government has made a law on a specific issue, like immigration, and that the State, in this case Arizona, makes a law on that same specific issue that directly conflicts with the federal law. Congress’s expansive registration process for immigrants was specifically cited, as was the larger scheme of immigration handled by our federal government.

All was not completely lost for Arizona, as the provision that was upheld allows law enforcement officers to check the status of a suspect’s immigration if they have already been arrested or detained for another crime and ‘reasonable suspicion’ exists as to that person’s immigration status. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer called the upholding of this provision a “victory for Arizona” in comments made shortly after the decision was publicized.

The decision will have far-reaching consequences at both the State and Federal level as other states, like Georgia, Alabama, Utah and Indiana, have all enacted similar provisions in their laws.

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