Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Arizona, et. al, v US concerning the god-awful Arizona immigration law SB 1070. You can now read the whole transcript online, but in case you're not in the mood to read the whole, depressing thing, I thought I would provide some salient excerpts below.
The first issue that the justices really pounced on was the section of the law pertaining to holding a person for suspected immigration violation. The justices were concerned that the time taken to check on the suspect's immigration status could result in them being imprisoned for unreasonable stretches of time, and Paul Clement, atty for Arizona, emphasized that length of imprisonment would still be governed under the 4th amendment.
"JUSTICE GINSBURG: But how would the State officer know if the person is removable? I mean, that's sometimes a complex inquiry.
MR. CLEMENT: Well, Justice Ginsburg, I think there's two answers to that. One is, you're right, sometimes it's a complex inquiry, sometimes it's a straightforward inquiry. It could be murder, it could be a drug crime. But I think the practical answer to the question is by hypothesis, there's going to be inquiry made to the Federal immigration authorities, either the Law Enforcement Support Center or a 287(g) officer.
And presumably, as a part of that inquiry, they can figure out whether or not this is a removable offense, or at least a substantially likely removable offense.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Suppose it takes 2 weeks to make that determination, can the alien be held by the State for that whole period of time -MR.
CLEMENT: Oh, I don't think -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: -- just under section 6?
MR. CLEMENT:I don't think so, Your Honor, and I think that, you know, what -- in all of these provisions, you have the Fourth Amendment backing up the limits..."
Next, Clement had a chance to make his argument on federal preemption. Whenever states get into areas of governance that usually dominated by the federal government, there is the potential for a claim that the federal law "pre-empts" and overrules the state level law. Let's see Clement's argument.
"I do think as to section 3, the question is really -- it's a provision that is parallel to the Federal requirements, and imposes the same punishments as the Federal requirement.
So it's generally not a fertile ground for preemption. But of course, there are cases that find preemption even in those analogous circumstances. They're the cases that the government is forced to rely on."
He then goes on to differentiate the AZ law from the ones in other federal preemption cases that the government is likely to bring up. However, the gist of the argument is always that the law is duplicated, so its hard to say that it conflicts with the federal requirements.
"And so I think the right analysis is really the analysis that this Court laid out in its Whiting decision, which says that in these kinds of cases, what you look for is whether or not the State scheme directly interferes with the operation of the Federal scheme."
Next up to bat we had the atty for the government, our hero Donald Verrilli. Verrilli comes out immediately with the main federal preemption argument:
"GENERAL VERRILLI: Mr. Clement is working hard this morning to portray S.B. 1070 as an aid to Federal immigration enforcement. But the very first provision of the statute declares that Arizona is pursuing its own policy of attrition through enforcement, and that the provisions of this law are designed to work together to drive unlawfully present aliens out of the State.
That is something Arizona cannot do, because the Constitution vests exclusive -JUSTICE
SOTOMAYOR: General, could you answer Justice Scalia's earlier question to your adversary? He asked whether it would be the Government's position that Arizona doesn't have the power to exclude or remove -- to exclude from its borders a person who's here illegally.
GENERAL VERRILLI: That is our position, Your Honor. It is our position because the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the national government."
After the assist from Sotomayor, Verrilli spends the rest of the time getting picked apart by Roberts and Scalia.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You think there are individual cases in which the State can call the Federal Government and say: Is this person here illegally?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Yes, certainly. But that doesn't make -CHIEF
JUSTICE ROBERTS: Okay. So doesn't that defeat the facial challenge to the Act?
Problematically for the government, they didn't rely on the possibility of racial profiling as a reason to challenge the law, although that was the constant "elephant in the room" of the argument.
GENERAL VERRILLI: ... Now, we are not making an allegation of racial profiling. Nevertheless, there are already tens of thousands of stops that result in inquiries in Arizona, even in the absence of S.B. 1070. It stands to reason that the legislature thought that that wasn't sufficient and there needed to be more.JUSTICE SCALIA: Sounds like racial profiling to me.
And given that you have a population in Arizona of 2 million Latinos, of whom only 400,000 at most are there unlawfully -
From here, it gets really messy. After failing to sell the preemption claim (Scalia and Roberts interpreted the Arizona statute as "helping" the federal government) Verrilli focused on the foreign relations aspect.
VERRILLI: What they're going to do is engage, effectively, in mass incarceration, because the obligation ...[is]...to enforce Federal immigration law, which is what they claim they are doing .... And so -- so you're going to have a situation of mass incarceration of people who are unlawfully present. That ... poses a very serious risk of raising significant foreign relations problems.And these problems are real. That is the problem of reciprocal treatment of United States citizens in other countries.UGH. As we can see, this did not turn out well. The real problem at stake in SB 1070 is that police can just pull over any Latino, incarcerate them for a while and ask the government to figure out their immigration status. Problematically, due to VAWA, TPS, and asylum, this isn't always the straightforward question that one might think. So, because of our complex immigration laws in combination with this terrible statute, the result is a situation that allows for the incarceration and punishment of a section of the population to the extent that, even if they are legally here, they won't want to live in Arizona any more. And that is the point of the law. "Attrition through enforcement."
JUSTICE KENNEDY: So you're saying the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?
GENERAL VERRILLI: No.
Harassing and annoying every Latino citizen of Arizona is racist, inhumane, and embarrassing for the US. But is it unconstitutional? Its going to take some fancy footwork to make that claim from the arguments in this case.