Arizona Republicans declared victory Monday after the Supreme Court upheld the key provision of the state’s immigration law requiring police to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants during a lawful stop.
The court struck down three provisions of the law known as Senate Bill 1070, but left intact the so-called “show-your-papers” section, leading Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to announce that “the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law,” Mrs. Brewer, who signed the bill into law, said in a statement. “It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”
She stressed that the law would be implemented “in an even-handed manner that lives up to our highest ideals as American citizens.”
“I know the state of Arizona and its law enforcement officers are up to the task,” said Mrs. Brewer.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne also cheered the ruling, characterizing the three sections of the law ruled unconstitutional as far less consequential than the status-check provision, known as Section 2B.
The other three provisions made it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek jobs, required them to carry their immigration documents, and allowed police to arrest anyone suspected of committing a deportable offense.
“I consider it a 70 percent win,” Mr. Horne said. “We lost the other three provisions, but those were minor next to Section 2B. The oral argument over 2B consumed almost all the oral argument, and we won that one.”
Meanwhile, immigrant-rights groups blasted the decision, saying it would encourage racial profiling. Puente Arizona, an immigrants-rights group, launched a campaign it called “Stop 1070, We Will Not Comply” and called for a protest Monday outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Phoenix.
“It’s looking like Arizona just legalized racial profiling,” Puente Arizona organizer Carlos Garcia told KTVK-TV. “We will continue to fight. It’s an unjust law.”
Arizona Democrats, who have opposed S.B. 1070, said that the half-loaf decision demonstrates that the law is riddled with flaws.
“This law does nothing to protect or strengthen Arizona,” said Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia in a statement. “This law is simply a tool of divisive voices for political gain, one that damages our state’s credibility and economy.”
He said the law has cost Arizona $23 million in tax revenue and at least $350 million in spending by convention-goers. The law’s passage in 2010 touched off a boycott of the state’s tourism, convention and manufacturing businesses, although some cities suspended their boycotts pending a resolution of the legal challenges.
“The Supreme Court has said Section 2B of SB 1070 is constitutional,” Mr. Heredia said. “That does not make it right.”
The decision was bittersweet for the bill’s sponsor, former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who was ousted in November in a recall effort organized by opponents of S.B. 1070. Mr. Pearce is now seeking the Republican nomination for the newly drawn state Senate seat in Mesa.
“It’s a huge win for Arizona and states’ rights,” Mr. Pearce said. “Was it worth the recall? Absolutely. If being recalled is the price for defense of country, defense of the rule of law, defense of states’ rights, I’ll pay it any day.”
On one point, Arizonans on both sides of political aisle were in agreement: That the real problem lies with the federal government’s inadequate response to the wave of illegal immigrants streaming over the Arizona border from Mexico.
“SB 1070 is the product of the federal government’s failure to act,” said Richard Carmona, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat up this November. “Today’s ruling does not help us secure the border, and it does not provide a solution for the 400,000 undocumented people living in Arizona.”
Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, took a swipe at the Obama administration, saying that Arizonans “are better served when state and federal officials work as partners to protect our citizens rather than as litigants in a courtroom.”
“The Arizona law was born out of the state’s frustration with the burdens that illegal immigrant and continued drug smuggling impose on its schools, hospitals, criminal-justice system and fragile desert environment, and an administration that chooses to set enforcement policies based on a political agenda, not the laws as written by Congress,” said the senators.
Five states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — have adopted laws similar to S.B. 1070 in the two years since the Arizona bill’s passage. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson applauded the court’s ruling Monday, calling it “a major victory for law enforcement in South Carolina.”
At the same time, he said, “the fact remains that we need comprehensive legal immigration reform and that the federal government must step up its border patrol or allow states to combat illegal immigration.”
The ruling places a fresh focus on the immigration issue in the Senate race in Arizona for the seat being vacated by Mr. Kyl’s retirement. That could be awkward for Rep. Jeff Flake, a candidate for the Republican nomination who came under criticism last year for abandoning his support for a pathway to citizenship in favor of a harder line on border security.
In a Twitter feed Monday, Mr. Flake said, “Supreme Court #SB1070 ruling a mixed bag at best. Wish POTUS [President of the United States] would focus on the border rather than the courts.”
Mr. Carmona, the only candidate for the Democratic nomination, said “immigration problems are complex, but the solutions are simple.”
“Secure the border, develop a pathway to earn legal status and enact the DREAM Act,” said Mr. Carmona, who served as Surgeon General under President George W. Bush. “Leadership on this issue takes courage, but it also requires politicians to stop using immigration as a wedge issue to score political points.”
Wil Cardon, one of several candidates for the Republican Senate nod, said that the “unfortunate split decision on SB 1070 opens the door to more of the same from Washington: more waffling, more inaction, more ‘back door amnesty.’”
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose toughest-sheriff-in-America persona has made him a central figure in the state’s immigration debate, had an uncharacteristically muted response to the decision.
“I’m not going to brag and be here like, ‘Oh, we won.’ I’m not going to get into that,” said Mr. Arpaio in an interview on KTVK-TV. “But it does help in law enforcement when you have good laws and laws that we can enforce.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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