Immigration and Citizenship

Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Employer Sanctions On Immigration — What Does It Mean For SB-1070?

By Adam Serwer

Scott Lemieux takes a look at the Supreme Court’s decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, in which the conservative majority upheld a state law requiring employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify system, which critics have said is deeply flawed, or face serious legal sanctions:

This is a close case, and Arizona’s scapegoating of illegal immigrants in general is hateful (although employer sanctions are certainly preferable to directly targeting undocumented immigrants). And yet, I actually sympathize with the argument made by the conservative majority here, for the same reason I think they were wrong in the recent AT&T class action case: Congress is free to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses over other state objectives, but we cannot simply assume that it must do so. I am much more concerned about this possibility that the law could lead to more discrimination against lawful workers — which, as Breyer points out, is a serious concern.

The decision was 5-3; Justice Elena Kagan recused herself.

Is there anything here foreshadowing the court’s thoughts on SB-1070, Arizona’s draconian immigration law? Not necessarily, says Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “The impact of this ruling seems pretty narrowly limited to the employment law context, in which the states have always played a role,” Kendall says. “The Court’s ruling shouldn’t have much impact on the Court’s evaluation of Arizona’s unprecedented attempt in SB1070 to take immigration law into its own hands.”

UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler mostly agrees, noting that federal law gives states a lot of leeway when it comes to licensing. That said, he thinks the conservative justices may be sending the administration a message when it comes to their legal views on immigration. “The majority gave little weight to the administration’s interpretation of federal law,” Winkler says, adding that the decision “may reflect a suspicion a majority of the justices have about the administration’s interpretations of immigration law.” 

So while the decision reflects, as Lemieux writes, the triumph of conservative ideology over a conservative interest group, it doesn’t tell us much about how the court will rule on the biggest immigration case heading its way.

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