On Monday the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 to strike down key parts of S.B. 1070, the Arizona law that sought to crack down on illegal immigrants in the state and gave state and local authorities powers equivalent to those of federal immigration agents. The Court preserved the core of the law, which allows police to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The Court struck down the provisions that made it a state crime for immigrants to not carry immigration papers and for illegal immigrants to work, as well as a provision that allowed the police to arrest immigrants for crimes that would make them deportable. "Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion for Arizona v. United States. He was joined by Justices John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

Nancy Morawetz, professor of clinical law and co-director of NYU Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC), was counsel of record on an amicus brief opposing S.B. 1070 that was filed by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 100 civil rights, faith, and community organizations.

“The Court correctly struck down portions of the Arizona law that ignored the federal system for regulating immigration. But unfortunately, it left to another day the ‘show me your papers’ provisions that will inevitably lead to harassment of citizens and noncitizens alike,” said Morawetz. “We have already seen how local officers will employ these kinds of laws to engage in racial profiling. Battles over those provisions will continue in the lower courts, but those battles will take time. Meanwhile, the cost of ‘show me your papers’ laws will be an ongoing threat to the day to day life of Americans based on the color of their skin or their first language.”

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each filed dissents, with Scalia writing, “As a sovereign, Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory." Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

This high court ruling follows a victory for the IRC this spring. In April the Justice Department announced it would implement new procedures for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to ensure that deported immigrants who won their appeals can return to the U.S., and the solicitor general’s office said it would “clarify and correct” a 2009 statement to the Supreme Court in which it erroneously implied that the government already had such procedures in place.

Posted June 25, 2012