The U.S. Supreme Court gave ammunition to supporters and detractors of Arizona's tough immigration law, which was left partially intact by a ruling that's not likely to be the final word on the subject.
The court on Monday let stand SB 1070's "show me your papers provision" that allows officers to ask check the immigration status of subjects during a legal detention, said Devallis Rutledge, a veteran prosecutor who writes POLICE Magazine's "Point of Law" column.
Rutledge, who will expand on the ruling in the August issue of POLICE Magazine, said Monday's ruling doesn't change much for patrol officers. Two earlier court decisions—INS v. Delgado (1984) and Muehler v. Mena (2005)—already gave officers the right to check immigration status during a lawful detention.
"For enforcement officers, it really doesn't change anything," Rutledge told POLICE. "As long as we've lawfully got them stopped, it's no additional burden on their Fourth Amendment rights to ask about their immigration status."
However, the court in a 5-3 decision did strike down three of the law's tougher provisions, overturning sections that would have criminalized the failure to carry federal registration documents, penalized aliens who engage in unauthorized employment, and allow warrantless arrests of suspected undocumented aliens.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said federal law prevents these provisions from being enforced by Arizona.
"The national government has significant power to regulate immigration," Justice Kennedy wrote. "Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."