Supreme Court Decision Upholds Key Provision of Arizona SB 1070

Supreme Court Decision Upholds Key Provision of Arizona SB 1070

The Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision was the second of two major rulings last week. And the High Court did a bit better as far as the rule of law is concerned when it upheld a major provision of Arizona’s illegal immigration enforcement law, SB 1070 earlier this week.

The leftist media has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the parts of the law invalidated by the High Court, but I’d like to focus on the one key part left intact: Police officers in Arizona and around the country may now check the immigration status of individuals they arrest or stop for questioning whom they suspect are in the U.S. illegally. Here’s the statement I offered to the press emphasizing the positive:

This is a victory for the safety and security of Arizona and the nation. The Supreme Court held that local police can help to enforce immigration law by inquiring about immigration status. This sensible application of the law confirms that local law enforcement can use an additional tool to protect public safety. We can expect dozens of states to enact laws further empowering the police as Arizona did. The Obama administration should now focus on enforcing immigration laws rather than thwarting them.

Now this was not a universal, hands-down victory for those interested in upholding the rule of law. There are some aspects of SB 1070 that will not move forward as a result of the High Court’s decision, including a provision that would have made it a state crime for an illegal alien to apply or obtain a job, for example. But overall, the ruling is a validation that local law enforcement does have an important role to play in enforcing illegal immigration laws – which is what Judicial Watch has been saying all along.

Judicial Watch had previously defended the law on behalf of the Arizona State Legislature. Most recently we filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, and a separate brief on behalf of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI).The amicus brief on behalf of SLLI was joined by 29 legislators from 20 states.

In both briefs, Judicial Watch argued that SB 1070 utilizes the state of Arizona’s well-established police powers and therefore is not preempted by federal law as the Obama administration maintains. Here’s how we put it in both briefs:

S.B. 1070 does not regulate immigration or naturalization. It does not control who may enter the United States or the conditions under which lawfully present aliens may remain in the United States or become naturalized citizens. Nor does it purport to define any alien’s legal status or deport unlawfully present aliens from the United States.

It merely authorizes and directs Arizona’s state and local law enforcement officers to communicate and cooperate with federal officials regarding the enforcement of federal immigration law and creates disincentives for unlawfully present aliens who do not comply with federal law to enter or remain in Arizona…Therefore, this Court should reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision and hold that S.B. 1070 is not preempted by federal law.

The Supreme Court ruling is a validation of this argument. But don’t expect the Obama Justice Department to start playing ball just because the Supreme Court says it must. The moment the decision came down, the Justice Department showed its hand with respect to how it plans to respond to the Supreme Court ruling. According to CNN:

Obama administration officials said Monday the federal government would not become a willing partner in the state of Arizona’s efforts to arrest undocumented people — unless those immigrants meet federal government criteria. And they said the administration is rescinding agreements that allow some Arizona law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

(By the way, the Obama administration’s “criteria” for deportation continues to shrink. First it was “only” illegal aliens not convicted of “serious crimes.” Then, as JW uncovered, violent criminals were added to the “suspended deportation list.” And most recently, the president proudly announced, every single illegal alien under 30 who was brought here as a child will be allowed to stay.)

After the Supreme Court decision, the Obama administration also announced a new hotline where illegal immigrants can lodge civil rights complaints while simultaneously cancelling its 287(g) task force agreements with Arizona.  (The 287(g) agreements allow local law enforcement agencies to establish partnerships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce illegal immigration laws.)

“The end of the agreements makes it that much harder for Arizona to carry out the surviving provision of SB 1070,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said during an interview with Fox News’ Greta van Susteren, per the Times:

“This is politics at its best. It’s just unconscionable. What [the Obama administration] said to Arizona is, ‘Drop dead, Arizona. Drop dead and go away. We’re going to ignore you.’

“It’s almost become apparent that they can do whatever they darn well want! They don’t want to enforce their laws. They won’t let us help them enforce their laws,” she added.

The Obama administration’s political posturing notwithstanding, Governor Brewer called the ruling a “victory for the rule of law,” and said she would help ensure “the implementation and enforcement of this law in an even-handed manner that lives up to our highest ideals as American citizens.”

Although many of the provisions of SB 1070 will not be enforced, the provisions left intact by the lower courts are already working.

As noted by Fox News: “Though it was partially blocked in the courts, its enactment had an undeniable effect in Arizona by striking fear into the immigrant community. Illegal immigration in Arizona is estimated to have dropped from around 560,000 in 2008 to 360,000 in January 2011.”

And that was before this most recent Supreme Court ruling, which allows police officers to inquire about a suspect’s illegal immigration status. Let’s hope this trend continues and that other states follow Arizona’s lead.

The Supreme Court majority opinion, once again joined by the Chief Justice, was far from perfect.  It was an assault on state sovereignty (see Justice Scalia’s groundbreaking dissent) that ought to be overturned by Congress or another set of sensible Supreme Court justices. 

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