Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

How the SB 1070 Supreme Court ruling is making its way through the states

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Arizona's SB 1070 late last month, striking down three provisions of the state anti-illegal immigration law while upholding its most controversial one, other states with SB 1070-style laws have been weighing how the decision applies to them.

The justices ruled on whether four contested sections of the 2010 Arizona law encroached on the federal government’s ability to set immigration policy, and thus were preempted by federal law. The one provision the high court did not strike down: Section 2(B), which empowers local police to check the immigration status of people they stop, detain or arrest if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. The court ruled that, as written, this did not conflict with federal law, although it remains to be seen if it will violate federal law in practice.

In Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Utah and Indiana, a series of legal challenges had been riding on the high court's decision. All five states have enacted laws inspired by SB 1070, with provisions similar to the "reasonable suspicion" section and, in some cases, stricter ones involving schools and labor. In turn, AlabamaSouth Carolina and Utah were sued by the federal government on pre-emption grounds; others have been sued by civil rights groups.

What has been happening in these states since the high court's ruling? Here's a quick rundown based on news reports from the five states:


  • In Georgia, where an SB 1070-inspired law remains on hold pending the decision of an appeals court, attorneys for the state this week argued that police should begin enforcing key provisions of the law, including one allowing local cops to check for immigration status. Opponents have maintained that the law interferes with the federal government's authority. There was still no indication of when the appeals court might issue a ruling.

  • In Alabama, attorneys for a group of plaintiffs who sued to block Alabama's HB 56 argued last week the Supreme Court decision invalidated much of that state's law, considered the nation's strictest post-SB 1070 immigration measure. But lawyers representing the state have argued that the plaintiffs misinterpreted the ruling. Among other things, the Alabama law includes a temporarily-blocked provision that would have public schools check the status of students. It also contains a provision similar to SB 1070's that allows police to check for immigration status. An appeals court decision there is also pending.

  • After the SB 1070 decision, federal judge in South Carolina has decided to leave in place an earlier injunction blocking some of that state law's more controversial provisions until an appeals court issues a final ruling. Among the provisions blocked are one similar to SB 1070's empowering local police to detain people they suspect of being undocumented. While the Supreme Court's ruling allows Arizona to now implement that part of its law, police in South Carolina still cannot conduct their own immigration checks.

  • A somewhat milder law in Utah doesn't include the three provisions struck down by the Supreme Court in the case of SB 1070, but it does include one empowering police to check immigration status. Utah's Attorney General has called the ruling on SB 1070 a victory for Utah's HB 497. But the final decision rests with a U.S. District Court judge, who deferred on issuing a ruling on the Utah law while awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court.

  • Last year, a federal judge blocked a provision of Indiana law that empowered local cops to arrest people with actions filed against them by immigration officials. Since the SB 1070 decision, civil rights advocates have argued that the ruling points to the Indiana law being unconstitutional. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller told WBEZ in Chicago recently that he still needed to determine "exactly how the court’s ruling will affect Indiana’s law."

Read more on the aftermath of SB 1070 and what to expect next.

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