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Yet Another Ariz. Immigration Law Is Pre-empted by Federal Law

For being "America's Toughest Sheriff," a name he invented for himself, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, gets shot down. A lot.

He has the added disadvantage of Arizona's statutes, which try to butt into space occupied by federal law every chance they can get. Once again, a federal court will teach Arizona a lesson in pre-emption.

The Law's Pre-empted, Just Like All the Other Ones

The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 2012 made it harder to hire undocumented immigrants. For one, it became a crime to knowingly hire an undocumented immigrant. And while it isn't a crime to seek unauthorized work on the immigrant's part, it is a crime to use false documents to secure work.

Arizona has laws, too. One of its laws makes it a state crime to use false documents to secure employment. The plaintiffs in this case are undocumented immigrants prosecuted under the state law, along with workers' rights organizations. They claim both that the law is pre-empted by federal law and that it's unconstitutionally applied to immigrants.

Because the federal law doesn't explicitly pre-empt state laws on the same topic, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona looked at whether Congress intended to occupy the field of law regulating employment of undocumented immigrants -- which the court said it had. Unfortunately for America's Toughest Sheriff, Arizona's law tried to do the same thing. Even worse, another federal circuit court of appeals already looked at laws like Arizona's and found that they did regulate a field that Congress itself intended to regulate alone.

An Equal Protection Claim, Too

As almost an aside (because it's not really necessary for the outcome of the case), Judge David Campbell said it's plausible that Arizona passed its law in order to discriminate against undocumented immigrants -- something that states generally can't do. The only issue in the equal protection analysis is what level of scrutiny applies to criminalizing conduct directed toward immigrants. (Prior cases that applied heightened review involved government benefits.) The court didn't go into a full-on analysis, saying that it wouldn't dismiss the Equal Protection claim.

Of course, none of this should surprise Arizona. They've tried more than once to impose their own, additional immigration sanctions over and above federal law, and they've been shot down every time.

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