Supreme Court to Decide Fate of SB 1070

On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration reform act, SB 1070.

After SB 1070 was signed in 2010 by Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, the federal government moved to block certain provisions of the law from taking effect. Among the provisions that the U.S. Department of Justice challenged was one requiring Arizona law enforcement officers to ascertain the citizenship status of every person arrested, even for minor infractions.

The government argued that SB 1070 usurped federal authority to make laws governing immigration, as the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility for establishing “an “uniform rule of naturalization.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the DOJ, blocking all the challenged components of the law. This prompted Brewer to seek a ruling from the Supreme Court.

In a statement praising the Supreme Court for taking on the case, Brewer said, “I was stunned at the audacity of the Obama administration to file suit against an individual state seeking to safeguard its people.”

The court’s decision is almost certain to impact a number of other states – including Utah, South Carolina and Alabama – that passed laws similar to SB 1070 and have also faced challenges from the DOJ, as well as lawsuits from civil rights and immigration rights groups. In trying to surmise how the court will rule on SB 1070, the Wall Street Journal pointed to a recent 5-4 decision to uphold another Arizona law that allows the state to withhold licenses from businesses that hire undocumented workers. However, the Journal pointed out the SB 1070 case involves different aspects of immigration law.

Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the SB 1070 case, presumably because she was solicitor general in 2010, and therefore might have insight into the Obama administration’s arguments.