Arizona v. U.S., Civil Rights Violation or Federalism Conflict?

Posted Eureka Lessons American Government, Lessons

In 2010, the federal government challenged the constitutionality of Arizona's controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070.  While the law is a clear violation of civil and human rights (a due process case), the Supreme Court focused on the issue of federalism- that immigration and naturalization laws are supposed to uniform under the federal government, not the state.  In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the law citing the supremacy clause under Article 6 of the Constitution.


Photo Credit: John Moore, Time- Immigration Detention in Arizona

Arizona vs. U.S.

Facts of the Case:

In March of 2010, Robert Krentz stumbled upon Mexican drug smugglers on his property.  He notified authorities and when he attempted to chase them down by foot, he was shot and killed.  Arizona citizens were enraged because this was not the first time something like this had happened.  Since the late 1990’s, drug cartel-related violence has increased at an alarming rate near the Mexican-U.S. border.  Phoenix, AZ and other cities close to the Mexican border are notorious for drug smuggling, human trafficking, and kidnappings.  To alleviate the conflict, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the S.B. 1070 into law.

The Arizona Immigration Law S.B. 1070, also known as the Safe Neighborhood Act, aims to reduce crime rates, drug deals, and gang activity by targeting illegal aliens with “reasonable suspicion”.  The law makes it illegal to hire undocumented immigrants for employment in the U.S., or knowingly keep an illegal alien on payroll.  The Act also allows the police to lawfully stop any vehicle if they have “reasonable suspicion” and request valid Arizona/U.S. identification.  If the driver cannot produce valid identification, they may be detained until they can prove citizenship.  Eventually, illegal immigrants face deportation.


Americans are divided on the issue of this controversial law.  Republicans and like-minded Arizonians are frustrated with the crime, violence, and economic problems connected to the influx of illegal immigration.  They argue that there is nothing unconstitutional about S.B. 1070.  Under Amendment 10 of the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Since there are no specific federal laws that fill in the gaps of S.B. 1070, Arizona legislators (lawmakers) argue that they are not doing anything wrong.

On the other end, S.B. 1070 makes it extremely easy for the authorities to racially profile people.  Racial profiling goes against people’s constitutional rights to “due process” and protection from unfair state laws under the 14th Amendment.  It also infringes upon the people’s 4th Amendment rights to protection from unreasonable search and seizure.  In addition, the penalties and punishments imposed by Arizona law are unconstitutional according to federal laws.  This is where Article 6 comes into play.  Under Article 6 of the Constitution, when state and federal (national) laws conflict, the national law is considered supreme.


Is the Arizona Immigration Law unconstitutional?

Which Amendments protect the rights of the people in this case?