Understanding the SCOTUS Ruling on Arizona’s Immigration Law
Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070 (read RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein’s statement here). Of the four provisions presented before the justices for review, three were overturned because they interfered with federal law. The decision was 5-3, with Justice Kennedy writing the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Ginsburg. (Justice Kagan recused herself because she was involved in preparing the government’s case while serving as solicitor general).
This decision was not only a win for the U.S. government, it was also a triumph for the protection of civil and human rights. The Court’s general finding was that federal immigration law preempts state immigration law—and the state law in question was certainly one that violated civil and human rights. The three provisions that were struck down are:
- Section 3 of the Arizona law, which criminalized a person’s failure to register as undocumented;
- Section 5 of the law, which made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work without authorization; and
- Section 6, which authorized Arizona police officers to make unwarranted arrests if they had probable cause to believe that an individual had engaged in deportable activity as determined by federal law.
However, the constitutionality of a very controversial and dangerous provision, section 2(B), was left up in the air. This provision allows Arizona law enforcement officials to demand the immigration papers of individuals stopped for any reason. As the Supreme Court ruling reads, “It was improper to enjoin §2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that §2(B)’s enforcement in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives.” The decision that a ruling on 2(B) was premature did, however, come with the qualification that law enforcement officers should not use racial profiling in justifying a stop. Even though the ruling provides this qualification, there are still significant concerns that racial profiling could occur, so we will remain vigilant in protecting the rights of all women, men and children and urge Arizona and lower courts to do the same.
Throughout our history, from Moses’ time to modern times, the Jewish people have known the experience of being strangers in a strange land. Those experiences, and Leviticus’ mandate to “welcome the stranger,” (19:33-34) have inspired American Jewry’s commitment to a just immigration system and the just treatment of immigrants. SB 1070 would have failed to achieve either goal and would have been an affront to us as Reform Jews and as Americans who cherish this country’s history as a nation of immigrants.
We hope this ruling will end the immigration battle between states and the federal government, sending a clear message to proponents of copycat laws in other states, such as Alabama, that ultimately immigration is a national, not local, responsibility. The reality that this message had to come from the courts, rather than Congress, shows the need for strong comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. President Obama’s recent announcement relieving young undocumented adults from the fear of deportation was a commendable act to resolve the broken immigration system, but this too evinces the need for more permanent reform enacted by Congress. The DREAM Act is one approach that brings us closer to comprehensive immigration reform – urge your members of Congress to co-sponsor the DREAM Act today!