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Supreme Court Decision on SB 1070


Last revised JUNE 25, 2012  |  Download Adobe PDF icon

The Supreme Court Decision on SB 1070


On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, the first legal challenge to a state anti-immigrant law to reach the highest court in the land. This case is separate from the class action lawsuit filed by the National Immigration Law Center and others that challenged several additional elements of SB 1070, Arizona′s racial profiling law.

Here’s a brief overview of the four issues before the Supreme Court in United States v. Arizona:

Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision

This provision requires local law enforcement to verify immigration status in any lawful stop, detention, or arrest any time they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is unlawfully present. This provision requires police officers to verify immigration status even if what’s been violated is a municipal ordinance. For example, police officers who come to a home in response to a noise violation complaint are required to verify immigration status of those they encounter if the officers have “reasonable suspicion” that those people are unlawfully present.

Other states with similar provisions: Utah, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Arizona’s state noncitizen registration provision

This provision creates a state crime for failure to carry one’s immigration “papers” with him/her at all times. This provision would make those who fail to have their federal immigration registration papers with them subject to being charged with a misdemeanor. This provision is problematic on a practical level because there are classes of people who are lawfully residing but do not have documentation to prove it. These people could become entangled in overreaching provisions such as these.

Other states with a registration provision: Alabama and South Carolina.

Arizona’s state criminal penalty for working if you are unlawfully present

This provision goes beyond federal law by criminalizing work by unauthorized workers, which is in direct opposition to the federal government’s decision to make employers (not employees) subject to criminal penalties if they hire unauthorized workers.

Other states with a criminalization-of-work provision: Alabama.

Arizona’s provision authorizing warrantless arrests for individuals presumed to have committed a removable offense

This provision provides law enforcement officers with wide authority to arrest individuals based on suspected immigration status, without having to ask a judge for a warrant. It grants state and local officers more authority to make warrantless arrests than Congress has seen fit to give to federal officers.

Other states with similar warrantless arrest provisions: Indiana and Utah.

HOWEVER THE SUPREME COURT DECIDES the United States v. Arizona case, the class action challenge to Arizona’s SB 1070 that was filed by a coalition of civil rights organizations, Friendly House v. Whiting, will continue to move forward, because it includes additional legal claims.

Furthermore, provisions that were included in other state anti-immigrant laws but not in SB 1070, including provisions that criminalize use of foreign consular IDs, chill access to elementary and secondary schools, criminalize the harboring and transporting of undocumented immigrants, restrict interaction with state and local governmental offices, and make contracts between those without status and other parties unenforceable, will not be affected by a Supreme Court decision on the Arizona case.