Cases & Deals

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts as amici curiae before Supreme Court successfully arguing for preemption of controversial Arizona immigration law

Clients United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Inc.

On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, found three of the four provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law ("S.B. 1070") invalid and preempted by federal immigration law, a position argued by Jones Day on behalf of amici curiae United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious organizations.

Jones Day filed a brief in the case on behalf of amici curiae the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Rev. Gradye Parsons as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in support of the United States. The United States had filed the suit to have numerous provisions of S.B. 1070 enjoined as preempted by federal immigration law. The Ninth Circuit had found four separate provisions of S.B. 1070 preempted.

In the amicus brief before the Supreme Court, the amici argued that the Ninth Circuit should be affirmed because federal immigration law has long established a nuanced approach that seeks not simply to deter and prosecute illegal immigration, but also to promote competing goals such as family unity and human dignity. The provisions of the Arizona law at issue in the case, by contrast, would upset the delicate federal approach by promoting "attrition through enforcement" as the sole state goal. More generally, the brief noted that a patchwork system of fifty different immigration laws would intrude on religious liberty, because many of those laws contained "anti-harboring" provisions that, if read broadly by the states, could criminalize the charitable efforts of many religious organizations, who seek to serve all individuals regardless of whether they are in this country illegally.

The Supreme Court held that three of the four provisions were preempted. The first, which made criminal an undocumented immigrant's mere presence in the state, was preempted because federal law occupied the field of "alien registration" and did not permit the states to adopt any laws on that topic. The second, which criminalized an undocumented immigrant's decision to work in Arizona, was preempted because it interfered with the federal scheme's balanced approach to the employment of undocumented immigrants, an approach that had intentionally placed criminal sanctions on the employer rather than the undocumented immigrants themselves. The third, which gave state officers the ability to arrest certain individuals that were suspected of being removable as undocumented immigrants, was preempted because it conflicted with the federal immigration regime's choice to give federal officers discretion when making removability decisions. Finally, while the Court refused to enjoin the fourth provision (which authorized state officers to make reasonable attempts to confirm the immigration status of individuals stopped or arrested on other legitimate grounds), it did so only after pointing out that detaining individuals to check immigration status would raise serious constitutional concerns and that the provision at issue likely needs to be interpreted narrowly by the state courts to avoid those concerns. The Court also expressly left open other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied to specific individuals.

Arizona v. United States, No. 11-182 (U.S.)