By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three portions of Arizona's controversial immigration law on Monday, but allowed one of the key provisions to stand in a highly anticipated split decision.
LINK: Read the Full Opinion - Arizona vs. the United States
The justices ruled that Arizona overstepped its authority by creating state crimes targeting illegal immigrants. One provision made it a state crime for illegal immigrants who failed to carry registration papers and another created a crime for soliciting work. The third portion of the law struck down allowed state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant in some cases.
The court did allow the main component of the law to stand. That requires state and local police to check the immigration status of people they've stopped or detained if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that they're in the country illegally.
But the court indicated that even that section could face further legal challenges.
The court said it's hard to gauge the impact of that section before it goes into law, and specifically stated that its order does not prevent further lawsuits once the law goes into effect.
"There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced. At this stage, without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume (Section 2(B)) will be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law," the opinion read.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law a little more than two years ago, focused on the portion of the law that survived the Supreme Court review. She said the state would immediately begin retraining all its officers to implement that part of the law.
"Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law," she 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. After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution."
Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, which has filed several lawsuits against Arizona over its immigration law, called Brewer's reaction misguided because the surviving portion of the law barely "squeezed past" the Court's review.
"This is not a green light. It said 'We're letting it go today cautiously' and marked the constitutional boundaries around this provision," she said. "It's quite clear that this is just the opening round of legal challenges."
The law center and other groups already have pending lawsuits challenging Arizona's law on other grounds, so it's unclear when and if the law would officially go into effect.
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court that was unanimous on allowing the status check to go forward. The court was divided 5-3 on striking down the other portions.
Arizona's SB 1070, which passed in 2010, has become a flashpoint for the debate over how to enforce immigration in the U.S. and served as a blueprint for five other states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah - that later adopted similar laws.
Sponsors said the law was necessary because the federal government has failed to control the influx of illegal immigrants into the country, forcing states like Arizona to grapple with the security concerns and high costs of educating and caring for illegal immigrants. They said the law simply empowers police and state officials to help enforce federal immigration laws.
Opponents said it unfairly criminalizes otherwise law-abiding people, opens the door for racial profiling of Hispanics legally in the country and forces state law enforcement to interfere with the intricacies of federal immigration policy.
Four key provisions of the law were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix, a ruling that was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and both sides held oral arguments on April 25.
The court was deciding the constitutionality of four provisions:
Section 2(B): Requires state and local police to perform roadside immigration checks of people they've stopped or detained if a "reasonable suspicion" exists they are in the country illegally.
Section 3: Makes it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to possess their federal registration cards.
Section 5(C): Makes it a state crime for illegal immigrants to work, apply for work or solicit work in any way, including making a "gesture or nod" indicating they are looking for work.
Section 6: Allows state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant when probable cause exists that they committed "any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States."
The ruling figures to play heavily in the presidential election.
President Obama has called the Arizona law "misguided" and his Department of Justice sued the state. Former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he would drop the federal lawsuit against Arizona and backed the Arizona-inspired idea of making life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they choose to "self-deport."
Every agency in the state had mandatory training from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board that included legal explanations on enforcing every aspect of the law, even those Bolton struck down in 2010.
Since then, agencies have enforced some of the active provisions of the law, including a smuggling-related statute that allowed law-enforcement to arrest people on suspicion of knowingly transporting aliens, a misdemeanor, when the officers did not have adequate probable cause to arrest on a felony human-smuggling charge.
Now it's a matter of retraining officers on the re-enacted portions of the law, said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman.
"We're going to continue to do business just as we've done it -- we were prepared for 1070 as it was written when it went into law," he said. "For us, it isn't a matter of having to recreate any wheel here, we already have it."