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Arizona v. United States

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sued Defendant seeking preliminary injunction to prohibit implementation of four specific provisions in S.B. 1070, a law designed to deter the unlawful entry and presence of illegal aliens in the state.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A state law that addresses immigration and alien registration is preempted where Congress has completely occupied the entire field.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Congress has made clear, however, that any information employees submit to indicate their work status may not be used for purposes other than prosecution under specified federal criminal statutes for fraud, perjury, and related conduct.

View Full Point of Law

The Arizona Legislature passed S.B. 1070, a law designed to deter the unlawful entry and presence of illegal aliens in the state. The federal government (Plaintiff) filed suit against the State of Arizona (Defendant) in district court and sought a preliminary injunction to prohibit the implementation of four specific provisions of the statute. The district court granted the injunction which prohibited the state law from taking effect. Arizona appealed. The court of appeals affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review.


Whether a state law that addresses immigration and alien registration is preempted where Congress has completely occupied the entire field.


Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


(Scalia, J.):The majority’s decision deprives Arizona, and any other State, from furthering its sovereign right and power to exclude people who have no right to be in the state. Moreover, the mere existence of federal action in the immigration field does not mean that a State is powerless to also act in that field. The Arizona laws being challenged do not extend, alter, or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce current federal restrictions more effectively.


Congress possesses vast authority to enact laws and govern over immigration issues and the regulation of aliens. Immigration policy can affect federal and international trade, tourism, diplomatic relations, and other vital interests of the United States. The federal government argues that four provisions of Arizona’s law are preempted by federal law covering the field of immigration. Section 3 of the statute penalizes an individual for failing to carry an alien registration document on his person. In Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52 (1941), the Court found that Congress intended to completely occupy the immigration field with one all-embracing system. There, the Court held that the States lacked the authority to complement or to enforce additional regulations related to alien registration. Field preemption reflects a congressional decision to foreclose any state regulation in the area, even if it is parallel to federal standards. Thus, Section 3’s requirement that an individual possess an alien registration document is preempted by federal law. Section 5(C) of the statute makes it a state misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to knowingly apply for or solicit work in a public place. The federal government argues that § 5 upsets the balance struck by Congress’ passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and therefore must also be preempted. Congress enacted the IRCA as a measure to combat the employment of illegal aliens. Although the federal law does not impose criminal penalties, some civil fines may be assessed. It is well settled that state law will be preempted if it stands as an obstacle to the objectives of Congress. Here, § 5 clearly conflicts with the objectives of the IRCA and is therefore preempted. Section 6 provides that a state police officer may arrest a person without a warrant if he has probable cause to believe that the person may have committed any offense that makes him removable from the United States. The federal government argues that § 6 creates an obstruction to the alien removal process created by Congress. Under Arizona’s law, a police officer may arrest someone if he has probable cause to believe the person has committed any public offense that makes him removable from the United States. However, under the federal immigration system, the illegal status of an alien alone is no basis for an arrest. Instead, an administrative process kicks in with the filing of specific documentation to conduct a hearing. If it is determined after such a hearing that the alien is removable, the Attorney General issues a warrant to arrest the alien which is executed by trained immigration officers. Section 6 attempts to circumvent the federal process by allowing Arizona police officers to arrest suspected illegal aliens. This would allow the state to have its own immigration policy in place of the federal immigration system and is thus preempted by federal law. Finally, Section 2(B) requires Arizona police officers to make a reasonable attempt to discern the immigration status of any person they stop, detain, or arrest if there is a suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. The section further provides that any person who is arrested will have his or her immigration status determined prior to being released. Through its comprehensive immigration regulatory scheme, Congress has obligated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to respond to any request made by state officials for verification of a person’s immigration status. The federal scheme leaves some room for a policy requiring state officials to contact ICE as a routine matter. However, there is no definitive interpretation from the lower courts of Section 2(B) to determine whether it can be construed in a manner that conflicts with federal law. Therefore, §§ 3, 5(C), and 6 of S.B. 1070 are preempted by federal law. It was improper, however, to enjoin § 2(B) until such time as it may be shown that the provision in fact conflicts with federal law.

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