MALDEF

MALDEF Responds to Supreme Court Decision in Arizona Case

Resounding Defeat for Arizona and Brewer Still Leaves Dangerous Possibility of Racial Profiling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Supreme Court affirmed an injunction against three of the four core SB 1070 provisions (Sections 3, 5(C), and 6) before the Court, and narrowly limited the possible implementation of the notorious reasonable suspicion/racial profiling provision (Section 2(B)). While holding that it was premature to block Section 2(B), the Court's ruling provides ample opportunity to seek to block the law once ambiguities in the law are resolved.

The Court's decision reaffirms longstanding law on exclusive federal authority in the area of immigration regulation. The Supreme Court unequivocally states that "The Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens." The Court concluded that while Arizona may be frustrated by problems in its state, it cannot pursue policies that undermine federal law.

Below, find a statement from Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF on the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States, June 25, 2012

"The Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States today strikes down three sections of SB 1070 and opens the fourth section before the Court – section 2(B) -- to further constitutional challenges and to further limiting interpretation. This outcome is a resounding victory for the Constitution as the Court majority affirms longstanding law on the breadth of exclusive federal authority in the area of immigration regulation. While the Court failed to appreciate the serious harms that come from allowing any implementation of section 2(B), which will necessarily lead to unconstitutional racial profiling, it has laid out a very difficult path for Arizona in trying to implement this provision."

"By striking down three of the four provisions before the Court, the decision sends a strong warning to any states or localities that have enacted or that may be considering enacting their own immigration regulation schemes. In short, the Court's decision should bring to a grinding halt the machinery of intolerance and racism that has promoted these laws. Arizona, in particular, has paid a very high price for what amounts to a very limited, even Pyrrhic, victory today."

"At the moment and in the immediate future, there should be no implementation of section 2(B) in Arizona or of any similar provision elsewhere. The trial court will have to consider other constitutional claims in the civil rights groups' separate case and may consider how to obtain an authoritative interpretation about the hopelessly ambiguous section 2(B). We must take all steps to prevent any racial profiling and unconstitutional arrests from this terrible Arizona state intrusion on federal immigration policy."

Overview of Key SB 1070 Provisionsin Supreme Court's AZ v. US ruling

Section 3 (state crime for failure to carry federal immigration registration documents)

  • The Supreme Court struck down §3, which sought to create a state crime for not carrying immigration papers. The Court invalidated Sec. 3 on the grounds that it adds a state-law penalty for conduct already regulated by federal law. The Court explained that the federal government is responsible for maintaining a system to keep track of non-citizens within the U.S. If §3 were valid, every State could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations and that would diminish the federal government's control over enforcement. Slip Op. at 10.

Section 5(C) (state crime for unauthorized work by immigrants)

  • The Supreme Court also struck down Sec. 5, which sought to make it a state crime for a non-citizen to work without authorization. Again, the Court pointed to the fact that the federal government already regulates employment by non-citizens and decided not to impose criminal penalties for unauthorized work. The Court ruled that "Under §5(C) of S. B. 1070, Arizona law would interfere with the careful balance struck by Congress with respect to unauthorized employment of aliens." Slip Op. at 15

Section 6 (authorization for local law enforcement to arrest individuals without a warrant for a removable offense)

  • The Supreme Court also struck down Sec. 6, which sought to give state and local police officers greater power than federal officers to arrest immigrants they believe are removable from the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled that such a law would allow Arizona to achieve its own immigration policy and that "this is not the system Congress created." Slip Op. at 17. The Court concluded that "§6 violates the principle that the removal process is entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government." Slip Op. at 18.

Section 2(B) (mandate for local law enforcement to determine immigration status of any detained person reasonably suspected of being undocumented)

  • The Supreme Court decided that it was too early to block Section 2B, which requires state and local officers to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of any person they stop, detain, or arrest if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien unlawfully present in the United States.
  • However, the Supreme Court warned that "Detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns." Slip Op. at 22.
  • The Court stated that "if §2(B) only requires state officers to conduct a status check during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released, the provision likely would survive . . ." Slip Op. at 23.
  • The Court made clear that "This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect." Slip Op. at 24.

MALDEF will continue to fight to erase the vestiges of anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and its progeny from the laws of Arizona and beyond.


Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.

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