Ninth Circuit Upholds Lower Court’s Ruling Against Arizona’s SB 1070

Immigrant rights advocates are calling Arizona's expensive legal woes and multiple losses a cautionary tale.

By Julianne Hing Apr 11, 2011

Just as we round the corner on the first anniversary of SB 1070, Arizona’s "show me your papers" law, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down an appeal from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who asked that a lower court’s injunction of the law be denied.

Today’s ruling struck down Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s appeal of a preliminary injunction against the law which was issued in July after the federal government sued the state. The Justice Department argued that SB 1070 was unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that the federal government will likely be able to argue its case on its merits.

SB 1070, which was signed into law on April 23 by Brewer, made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. It also empowered law enforcement officers to investigate a person’s immigration status while they were enforcing other laws if they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe that the person was undocumented. People would have to be held in state custody while their status was being determined. Critics of the law argued that it would legalize and even mandate racial profiling.

The federal government argued that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, it and it alone had the right to set immigration policy. By trying to pass its own immigration policy, Arizona was overstepping its powers, the Justice Department argued.

Last summer Judge Susan Bolton enjoined these portions of SB 1070. Bolton also blocked the portions of SB 1070 that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to solicit work and allowed for the warrantless arrests of people officers believed committed "deportable offenses." However, sections of SB 1070 have also been in place for the last year.

Judge Richard Paez wrote in today’s Court’s decision:

We stress that the question before us is not, as Arizona has portrayed, whether state and local law enforcement officials can apply the statute in a constitutional way… This formulation misses the point: there can be no constitutional application of a statute that, on its face, conflicts with Congressional intent and therefore is preempted by the Supremacy Clause.

By imposing mandatory obligations on state and local officers, Arizona interferes with the federal government’s authority to implement its priorities and strategies in law enforcement, turning Arizona officers into state-directed DHS agents.

Immigrant rights advocates are celebrating the ruling, and calling Arizona’s expensive legal woes and multiple losses a cautionary tale. "The decision should serve as a warning sign to other states that are considering whether or not to replicate Arizona’s SB 1070," said Chris Newman, legal counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Multiple states are considering anti-immigrant legislation inspired by Arizona.

Arizona has several options in front of it now. It can call for an en banc hearing and ask for an 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit to rehear its case, or it can appeal the ruling up to the Supreme Court. Arizona’s far from done with lawsuits, though. In February Brewer filed a separate lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that it was not doing enough to protect her state from immigration.