In a surprisingly welcome decision, the Supreme Court overturned three of the four provisions of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 and remanded the fourth one back to the state courts before ruling on it. The lineup was very interesting — Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy joined Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Ginsburg; Justice Alito agreed with them on one of the four provisions, and Justices Scalia and Thomas were left in dissent. You can read the full ruling here.
This was really a pretty straightforward case. The Constitution clearly gives authority over immigration to the federal government:
The Federal Government’s broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status rests, in part, on its constitutional power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” Art. I, §8, cl. 4, and on its inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations. Federal governance is extensive and complex. Among other things, federal law specifies categories ofaliens who are ineligible to be admitted to the United States; requires aliens to register with the Federal Government and to carry proof of status; imposes sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized workers; and specifies which aliens may be removed and the procedures for doing so. Removal is a civil matter, and one of its principal features is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials, who must decide whether to pursue removal at all. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for identifying, apprehending, and removing illegal aliens…
The Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law. A statute may contain an express preemption provision, but state law must also give way to federal law in at least two other circumstances. First, States are precluded from regulating conduct in a field that Congress has determined must be regulated by its exclusive governance. Intent can be inferred from a framework of regulation “so pervasive . . . that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it” or where a “federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed topreclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.” Second, state laws are preempted when they conflict with federal law, including when they stand “as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”
This result is both constitutionally sound and good policy. And it should keep other states from following Arizona’s lead and adopting similar legislation.