Court Strikes Another Blow Against Ariz. Immigration Law
A federal appeals court upheld a decision to block part of Arizona’s sweeping 2010 immigration law, finding the provision to be both unconstitutional and “unintelligible.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down the decision after the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups sued to block an element of SB 1070 that made it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally.
Just as the Supreme Court of the United States argued when it overturned much of the controversial law last summer, the appeals court said Arizona’s attempts to take over immigration enforcement violate the United States Constitution.
Judge Richard Paez wrote in his opinion that the state statute was “preempted by federal law and thus invalid under the Supremacy Clause.”
But that’s not all that the appeals panel found wrong with the Arizona legislature’s handiwork. The judges also determined that the law made no sense as written.
The state law says “it is unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense” to transport or harbor anyone who is in the country illegally. The court could only guess as to what lawmakers meant by “in violation of a criminal offense.”
“In sum, an offense is an action,” Paez wrote. “And one cannot violate, or be in violation of, an action. Once can only violate an object, such as a law or an agreement.”
The language “thus translates to ‘in violation of a violation of the law,’ which is, of course, nonsensical.”
Arizona attorneys argued that the intended meaning of the law was clear and asked the court to interpret the phrase as “in violation of a law.” Paez wrote that it was not up to the court to do so.
“Rewriting the statute is a job for the Arizona legislature, if it is so inclined, and not for this court.”
Problem With Authority
Supporters of the Arizona law say it’s needed because the federal government isn’t doing enough to police the border and deport illegal aliens. But in the three years since Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law, courts have dismantled it piece by piece.
Several of those pieces were ultimately taken down by the Supreme Court ruling, but the lawsuit against the prohibition on transporting and harboring illegals was a separate effort. Yet another suit prompted the 9th Circuit earlier this year to block a part of the law that prohibited day laborers from blocking traffic while soliciting work.
The state didn’t appeal the decision on the traffic blocking law, but Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has vowed to appeal the court’s latest decision. The Arizona Daily Star reports Gov. Brewer disagrees with the court’s interpretation that states cannot enforce their own immigration laws.
“I think that we have that right,” Brewer said. “But what befuddles me is what do they expect our law enforcement officers to do? They’re breaking the law.”
No End in Sight
Kevin Johnson, dean of UC Davis School of Law, told Lawyers.com that the series of lawsuits and hearings over SB 1070 are all battles in a larger fight for immigration reform at the federal level. And he expects the battles to continue at least until that reform is achieved.
“The state keeps getting as close as it can, and keeps getting its hand slapped away,” Johnson said. “A court once again thought Arizona overstepped its bounds, and I think the beat is going to continue to go on and on.”
“They keep pushing forward even though their chances of winning are pretty small. Arizona is making a political judgment to push this as far as they can go.”
What do you think about Arizona’s effort to enforce immigration laws? Should the state continue to defend its law or should it take “no” for an answer? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.