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Why the Supreme Court ruling on immigration is a clear rebuke to Arizona

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One of the provisions blocked by the court, Section 3, made it a crime under state law for immigrants to fail to carry “registration” papers issued by the federal government. Another, Section 5(C), made it a crime for immigrants without employment authorization documents to seek or perform work in Arizona. A third, Section 6, gave local police authority to arrest immigrants – including those with green cards – for having previously committed an offense making them removable from the country.

While the legal rationale varied for each section, the majority struck down all three provisions upon finding them to violate federal law or otherwise disrupt the framework created by Congress. (In a partially dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that he, too, believed that Section 3 should be overturned.)

The only provision to survive Monday’s ruling was Section 2(B), which requires Arizona police to try to determine the immigration status of people they stop or arrest if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person in custody is unlawfully present. (The provision received extensive media attention due to widespread concerns that it could invite racial profiling.)

But despite what some supporters of the law have suggested, the majority did not find this provision to be immune from legal challenge. Rather, the court found the provision so confusingly written that Arizona courts should have an opportunity to interpret it first.

And, in a tacit invitation to future litigants, the court noted that it was not foreclosing future challenges based on racial profiling or other legal claims. Thus, while the injunction against Section 2(B) was reversed in theory, Arizona will invite many additional lawsuits if it is applied in practice.

But perhaps the greatest vindication for opponents of SB 1070 was the court’s recognition of the importance of prosecutorial discretion, or the notion that law enforcement officials have inherent leeway not to enforce the law to its fullest extent.

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