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Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012), was a United States Supreme Court case involving Arizona's S.B. 1070, a state law intended to increase the powers of local law enforcement who wished to enforce federal immigration laws. At issue is whether the law usurps the federal government's authority to regulate immigration laws and enforcement. The Court ruled that sections 3, 5(C), and 6 of S. B. 1070 were preempted by federal law, but left other parts of the law intact, including a provision that allowed law enforcement to investigate a person's immigration status.

Arizona v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued April 25, 2012
Decided June 25, 2012
Full case nameArizona, et al., Petitioners v. United States
Docket no.11-182
Citations567 U.S. 387 (more)
132 S. Ct. 2492; 183 L. Ed. 2d 351
ArgumentOral argument
Opinion announcementOpinion announcement
Case history
PriorInjunction against Arizona, 703 F. Supp. 2d 980 (D. Ariz. 2010); affirmed and remanded, 641 F.3d 339 (9th Cir. 2011); cert. granted, 565 U.S. 1092 (2011).
An Arizona law providing authority for local law enforcement to enforce immigration law violated the enumerated powers of Congress and is pre-empted by federal statute. Arizona law enforcement may inquire about a resident's legal status during lawful encounters, but may not implement its own immigration rules. Ninth Circuit affirmed and reversed in part.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityKennedy, joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor
Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 4, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2



On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, which supporters dubbed the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act".[1] The act made it a state misdemeanor crime for an illegal immigrant to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, authorizes state and local law enforcement of federal immigration laws, and penalized those found to be knowingly sheltering, hiring and transporting illegal immigrants.[2]

The bill's passage immediately sparked constitutional concerns over potential civil rights violations and encouraging racial profiling.[3][4][5] Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the law in over 70 U.S. cities on May 1, 2010 (International Workers' Day).[6][7][8] A rally in Los Angeles, attended by Cardinal Mahony of the Roman Catholic Church, attracted between 50,000 and 60,000 people, with protesters waving Mexican flags and chanting "Sí se puede".[6][7][9] The city had become the national epicenter of protests against the Arizona law.[9] Around 25,000 people were at a protest in Dallas and more than 5,000 were in Chicago and Milwaukee, while rallies in other cities generally attracted around a thousand people or so.[7][8] There and in some other locations, demonstrators expressed frustration with what they saw as the administration's lack of action on immigration reform, with signs holding messages such as "Hey Obama! Don't deport my mama."[8]

The case was filed by the United States Justice Department in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona on July 6, 2010,[10] challenging Arizona's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act as usurping the federal government's authority to regulate immigration laws and enforcement. The plaintiffs also referenced the notion of federal preemption and stated that, "The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country".[11] Additionally, the Justice Department in its July 6, 2010 motion, requested that the federal courts issue an injunction to enjoin enforcement of the law before it goes into effect.[12] Arizona responded to the motion.[13] The 1976 precedent of De Canas v. Bica was relied upon in Arizona's Motion.

On Wednesday, July 28, 2010, Judge Susan R. Bolton ruled, blocking key portions of SB 1070 including "requiring police to check the immigration status of those they arrest or whom they stop and suspect are in the country undocumented would overwhelm the federal government's ability to respond, and could mean legal immigrants are wrongly arrested."[14] Judge Bolton wrote:

Federal resources will be taxed and diverted from federal enforcement priorities as a result of the increase in requests for immigration status determination that will flow from Arizona[14]

Governor Brewer promised to appeal the ruling, calling it "a temporary bump in the road." [15]

Several states jointly filed a Proposed Brief of Amici Curiae. The brief supported Arizona. The States of Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, along with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, filed their proposed brief on July 14, 2010. The brief stated that it "defends the States' authority to concurrently enforce federal immigration laws, especially in light of the selective and even lack of enforcement of those laws by the Obama administration. Under the current situation, the States have lost control over their borders and are left to guess at the reality of the law."[16] The Latin American countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru filed an amicus brief in support of the United States.

Additionally, 81 members of the U.S. Congress filed a Proposed Brief of Amici Curiae.[17][18] The brief supported Arizona.

On July 28, 2010, Judge Bolton issued an order denying in part and granting in part the United States' Motion for Preliminary Injunction heard the prior week.[19]

Among the provisions that will go into effect are the following: A.R.S. § 11-1051(A): prohibiting Arizona officials, agencies, and political subdivisions from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws; A.R.S. § 11-1051(C)-(F): requiring that state officials work with federal officials with regard to undocumented immigrants; and, A.R.S. § 11-1051(G)-(L): allowing legal residents to sue any state official, agency, or political subdivision for adopting a policy of restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law. See 7/28/2010 Order

An appeal of the US District Court's 7/28/2010 ruling was filed on July 29, 2010. A motion to expedite the normal appeal schedule was also filed. Arizona gave the following reasons for the motion to expedite:[20]

Good cause exists to expedite this appeal under Ninth Circuit Rules 27-12 and 34-3 and 28 U.S.C. § 1657 because it is an appeal of a preliminary injunction enjoining several key provisions of SB 1070 that the Arizona Legislature determined were critical to address serious criminal, environmental, and economic problems Arizona has been suffering as a consequence of undocumented immigration and the lack of effective enforcement activity by the federal government. An expedited briefing schedule will not unreasonably burden the parties because it is consistent with the expedited briefing schedule Plaintiff-Appellee received for the initial ruling on its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the issues on appeal are narrower than those the district court addressed and have largely been briefed by the parties, and the parties are well represented with sufficient counsel to brief the issues under the schedule Defendants-Appellants have proposed.

Arizona's Governor requested the following appeal schedule: opening brief due August 12, 2010, response brief due August 26, 2010, reply brief due September 2, 2010, and oral argument during week of September 13, basically a 30-day schedule, almost twice the schedule allowed for the original motion for preliminary injunction.[21]

On July 30, 2010, the Appeals Court ordered the following appeal schedule:

  • opening brief due August 26, 2010
  • response brief due September 23, 2010
  • reply brief due 14 days after response
  • oral argument (hearing) during first week of November 2010

Ninth Circuit opinion and way to Supreme Court decisionEdit

Recording of oral arguments heard by Ninth Circuit.

On November 1, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case. The three-judge panel was composed of Judges Richard Paez, Carlos Bea, and John T. Noonan.[22] On April 11, 2011, the Ninth Circuit panel upheld the district court's ban on parts of the law taking effect, thus ruling in favor of the Obama administration and against Arizona. Judge Richard Paez gave the majority opinion, in which Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. joined; Judge Carlos Bea dissented in part.[23][24] Paez agreed with the administration's view that the state had intruded upon federal prerogatives. Noonan wrote in his concurrence: "The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol. For those sympathetic to immigrants to the United States, it is a challenge and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt."[24]

On May 9, 2011, Governor Brewer announced that Arizona would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than request a hearing en banc before the Ninth Circuit;[25] that appeal was filed on August 10, 2011.[26] In response, the Justice Department requested that the Supreme Court stay out of the case, saying that the lower courts actions were appropriate.[27] Observers thought it likely that the Supreme Court would take up the matter,[26] but if it declined to step in, the case most likely would be returned to the trial judge in the District Court to review the case on its merits and determine whether the temporary injunction that blocked the law's most controversial provisions should become permanent.[28] The Supreme Court announced in December 2011 that it would review Arizona's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,[29][30] and oral arguments took place on April 25, 2012.[31][32]

Opinion of the U.S. Supreme CourtEdit

On December 12, 2011, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the case. The court heard oral arguments for this case on April 25, 2012. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, presumably because while she was the United States Solicitor General, she defended the federal government's position in this case under the Obama administration.[33]

On June 25, 2012, the Court struck down three of the four provisions of S.B. 1070. The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor.[34] Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito each concurred in part and dissented in part in separate opinions joined by no other justice.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion held that Sections 3, 5(C), and 6 were preempted by federal law.[34][35][36] The three provisions struck down: required legal immigrants to carry registration documents at all times; allowed state police to arrest any individual for suspicion of being an illegal immigrant; and made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to search for a job (or to hold one) in the state.[37][38][39]

All justices agreed to uphold the provision of the law allowing Arizona state police to investigate the immigration status of an individual stopped, detained, or arrested if there is reasonable suspicion that individual is in the country illegally. However, Justice Kennedy specified in the majority opinion that state police may not detain the individual for a prolonged amount of time for not carrying immigration documents; and that cases of racial profiling are allowed to proceed through the courts, if such cases happen to arise later on.[33][40]

Majority opinionEdit

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion identified the question before the Court as "whether federal law preempts and renders invalid four separate provisions of the state law." The four provisions in question were:

  1. Section 3 of S.B. 1070, which made it a state crime to be unlawfully present in the United States and failing to register with the federal government;
  2. Section 5, which made it a misdemeanor state crime to seek work or to work without authorization to do so;
  3. Section 2, which in some circumstances required Arizona state and local officers to verify the citizenship or alien status of people arrested, stopped, or detained; and
  4. Section 6, which authorized warrantless arrests of aliens believed to be removable from the United States based on probable cause.

Kennedy's opinion embraced an expansive view of the United States Government's authority to regulate immigration and aliens, describing it as "broad" and "undoubted." That authority derived from the legislative power of Congress to "establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization," enumerated in the Constitution,[41] as well as the long-standing interpretation of federal sovereignty in areas pertaining to the control and conduct of relations with foreign nations.[42] In this context, federal discretion as to whether or how immigration laws are enforced is an important component of Congressional authority. At the same time, Justice Kennedy's opinion acknowledged the serious concerns experienced by Arizona citizens and officials in dealing with illegal immigration, noting that signs along highways south of Phoenix, Arizona discourage travel by the public due to dangerous smuggling activities.

The majority opinion analyzed the four provisions in question within the framework of preemption, derived from the Supremacy Clause, requiring that federal law will prevail when state and federal laws conflict. The Court held that "the Federal Government has occupied the field of alien registration," meaning that all state action, "even complementary state regulation is impermissible."[43] Therefore, the registration provisions of Section 3 were preempted by federal law. In contrast to Section 3, the criminal provisions of Section 5 had no direct counterpart under federal law, leading the Court to apply the "ordinary principles of preemption" rather than the doctrine of field preemption. Under those principles, Section 5 stood as an obstacle to the objectives of Congress of not imposing "criminal penalties on aliens who seek or engage in unauthorized employment." Therefore, Section 5 was also preempted by federal law.

Section 6 of S.B. 1070 was also found to be preempted by federal law on the basis that it created an "obstacle to the full purposes and objectives of Congress." The Court noted that it is not generally a crime for a removable alien to be present in the United States, and that Section 6 would give state officers "even greater authority to arrest aliens on the basis of possible removability than Congress has given to trained federal immigration officers." Furthermore, the removal process is "entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government."

The majority upheld Section 2, but did so by reading it in a more restrictive manner. The provisions at issue required Arizona officers to make a "reasonable attempt" to determine the immigration status of any person stopped, detained, or arrested on a legitimate basis if "reasonable suspicion" existed that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.[44] Additionally, any arrestee's immigration status would have to have been determined before they could be released.[44] Status checks would have been made through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and their databases. Listing several examples, Justice Kennedy wrote that Section 2(B) "likely would survive preemption" if it is interpreted only to require state officers to conduct a status check "during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released." Underlining the cautious approach that the majority took to Section 2(B) were Justice Kennedy's final words on the section: "This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect."


Justice Scalia dissented and said that he would have upheld all four provisions as a valid exercise of concurrent state sovereignty over immigration.[45] Justice Scalia argued that the statute was valid because, "As a sovereign, Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory, subject only to those limitations expressed in the Constitution or constitutionally imposed by Congress. That power to exclude has long been recognized as inherent in sovereignty."[46] To support his position, Justice Scalia reviewed several cases from the early history of the Supreme Court's Immigration jurisprudence.[46]

Justice Thomas likewise would uphold the entire law as not preempted by federal law,[45] but for different reasons. Justice Thomas concluded that none of the challenged sections presented an actual conflict with federal law, so preemption doctrine did not apply.[47]

Justice Alito agreed with Justices Scalia and Thomas regarding Sections 5(C) and 6, but joined with the majority in finding Section 3 preempted and that Section 2(B) was not preempted.[45] With respect to Section 5(C) Justice Alito argued that "[t]he Court’s holding on §5(C) is inconsistent with De Canas v. Bica, 424 U. S. 351 (1976), which held that employment regulation, even of aliens unlawfully present in the country, is an area of traditional state concern."[48] He also argued that Section 6 was not preempted because, "[l]ike §2(B), §6 adds virtually nothing to the authority that Arizona law enforcement officers already exercise. And whatever little authority they have gained is consistent with federal law."[48]


The Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. said in a 2016 interview while it was a high-profile case in 2012, but that the consequences of that were not fully appreciated. In his view the problem was not so much the “show me your papers” provision of the law at issue, "but that the states are trying to supplant the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy, and we can’t have fifty different immigration policies."[49] After the Supreme Court announced its decision this decision helped to deter other states from establishing and enforcing its own immigration policies. Verrilli concluded the Court's decision was "a very consequential decision" which meant that an incipient anti-immigrant movement "got stopped dead in its tracks."[49] In addition, this decision could hamper California's attempts to undermine federal law under President Trump.[50]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (April 24, 2010). "U.S.'s Toughest Immigration Law Is Signed in Arizona". The New York Times. p. 1.
  2. ^ Arizona SB 1070, §1.
  3. ^ Johnson, Brad (April 23, 2010). "How can state's immigration bill not be un-American". The Arizona Republic.
  4. ^ Rev. Jackson, Jesse (April 27, 2010). "Common Ground, African-Americans & Latinos". The Huffington Post.
  5. ^ Montoya, Butch (May 1, 2010). "Taking a stand against Arizona law". Denver Post.
  6. ^ a b "Arizona immigration law sparks huge rallies". CBC News. May 1, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c Tareen, Sophia (May 1, 2010). "Anger over Ariz. immigration law drives US rallies". Associated Press.
  8. ^ a b c Preston, Julia (May 2, 2010). "Fueled by Anger Over Arizona Law, Immigration Advocates Rally for Change". The New York Times. p. A22.
  9. ^ a b Watanabe, Teresa; McDonnell, Patrick (May 1, 2010). "L.A.'s May Day immigration rally is nation's largest". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ 7.06.10 DOJ Lawsuit
  11. ^ Markon, Jerry; Shear, Michael D. (July 6, 2010). "Justice Department sues Arizona over immigration law". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ US Motion for Preliminary Injunction
  13. ^ Arizona's response to Motion for Preliminary Injunction Archived 2010-09-20 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b Stephen Dinan (2010-07-28). "Judge blocks key parts of Ariz. immigration law". Washington Times.
  15. ^ "Judge blocks Arizona's controversial immigration law". BBC News. 28 July 2010.
  16. ^ States' July 14 Amici,1607,7-164-46849_47203-240761--,00.html
  17. ^ Trent Franks press release Archived 2010-08-04 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Congressmen Amici Archived 2010-08-04 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Bolton 7.28.10 Injunction Order
  20. ^ 7.29.10 Arizona's Motion to Expedite Appeal Archived 2010-08-06 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Defendant's Appeal Archived 2010-09-20 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Egelko, Bob (November 2, 2010). "Court signals backing for Arizona immigration law". San Francisco Chronicle.
  23. ^ Lacey, Marc (April 11, 2011). "Appeals Court Rules Against Arizona Law". The New York Times.
  24. ^ a b Markon, Jerry (April 11, 2011). "Court upholds block on parts of Arizona immigration law". The Washington Post.
  25. ^ Rough, Ginger (May 9, 2011). "Gov. Jan Brewer wants Supreme Court to overturn SB 1070 ruling". The Arizona Republic.
  26. ^ a b Billeaud, Jacques (August 10, 2011). "Brewer Asks Court to Hear Immigration Law Appeal". ABC News. Associated Press.
  27. ^ "Gov't asks justices to stay out of immigration case". USA Today. Associated Press. November 10, 2011.
  28. ^ Aliaskari, Mahsa (May 2, 2011). "The Ninth Circuit and Arizona's S.B. 1070". The National Law Review.
  29. ^ "Supreme Court to Review Arizona's SB 1070". NumbersUSA. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  30. ^ Savage, David G. (12 December 2012). "Supreme Court to review Arizona immigration law". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  31. ^ Savage, David D. (26 April 2012). "Supreme Court may uphold part of Arizona immigration law". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  32. ^ Sachs, Mark (25 April 2012). "SB 1070: Supreme Court Appears To Favor Arizona On Controversial Immigration Law". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  33. ^ a b Liptak, Adam; Cushman Jr., Adam H. (June 25, 2012). "Blocking Parts of Arizona Law, Justices Allow Its Centerpiece". The New York Times.
  34. ^ a b Arizona v. United States, No. 11-182.
  35. ^ Cohen, Andrew (25 June 2012). "Razing Arizona: Supreme Court Sides With Feds on Immigration". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  36. ^ Savage, David G. (25 June 2012). "Supreme Court strikes down key parts of Arizona immigration law". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  37. ^ Barnes, Robert (June 25, 2012). "Supreme Court Rejects Much of Arizona Immigration Law". The Washington Post.
  38. ^ Tom Cohen and Bill Mears (26 June 2012). "Supreme Court mostly rejects Arizona immigration law; gov says 'heart' remains". CNN. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  39. ^ "At a glance: Supreme Court decision on Arizona's immigration law". CNN. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  40. ^ Manuel, Kate M.; Garcia, Michael John (September 10, 2012). Arizona v. United States: A Limited Role for States in Immigration Enforcement (PDF). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  41. ^ US Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 4.
  42. ^ United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304, 318 (1936).
  43. ^ Majority Opinion at 9-10
  44. ^ a b Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §11–1051(B).
  45. ^ a b c Rau, Alia Beard (June 25, 2012). "Arizona Immigration Law: Supreme Court Upholds Key Portion of Senate Bill 1070: Three Other Parts of Controversial Immigration Law Ruled Unconstitutional". The Republic.
  46. ^ a b "Supreme Court Opinion in Arizona v. United States, Opinion of Scalia, J, p. 1" (PDF).
  47. ^ "Opinion of Thomas, J dissenting, p. 1" (PDF).
  48. ^ a b "Opinion of Alito, J, p. 2" (PDF).
  49. ^ a b Gutierrez, Alexandra (June 30, 2016). "As Obama term winds down, Solicitor General Don Verrilli makes his exit". SCOTUSblog. SCOTUSblog. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  50. ^

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