The Anatomy of a Supreme Court Case

The Anatomy of a Supreme Court Case

Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 2012

The United States Supreme Court case Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. _____ (2012) was the final chapter in a story chock full of controversy. At the crux of the argument was whether or not Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act usurped the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration laws and enforcement. Among other controversial aspects of the law was the precedence that Arizona could have set for other states looking to enforce immigration more strictly if the law was to be found constitutional.

Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law on April 23, 2010, also known as the “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” The Senate Bill, once signed into law, gained national and international attention for being the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history. The law made it a misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents that they are federally required to receive from the U.S. Government if in the United States for more than 30 days. Law enforcement officers could check any person’s immigration status during any lawful stop, detention or arrest or during any lawful contact not specific to any activity with reasonable suspicion that the immigrant is illegal. Critics claimed that the law encouraged racial profiling in violation of civil rights as well as usurping federal authority over immigration. The controversial law sparked a wave of protests in over 70 cities with tens of thousands of people demonstrating against it.

The case was filed on July 6, 2010 by the United States Justice Department in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, a Ninth Circuit court. The case challenged the “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” as usurping the federal government’s authority to regulate and enforce immigration laws. In doing so, the notion of federal preemption, which is the invalidation of a US state law when it conflicts with federal law, was the main strategy used to argue against the law claiming that the constitution does not permit a patchwork of immigration policies on the state or local level. Of the briefs that were filed by each party, additional Proposed Briefs of Amici Curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”) were filed by states not party to the case, providing information to assist the court in deciding the matter. One of the Proposed Briefs of Amici Curiae was filed jointly by several states in support of Arizona, citing the Obama’s administrations lack of enforcement as giving states more reason to use their own authority to enforce immigration laws in light of having lost control over their borders and having to guess at the reality of Obama’s immigration laws. Additionally, 81 congressmen joined together in support of Arizona and filed an amicus brief while ten Latin American countries in support of the United States jointly filed their own amicus brief.

Twenty-two days after the case was filed, Judge Susan R. Bolton of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona made her ruling. The law was not blocked in its entirety, but key portions of the law were, including requiring police to check immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested because it could lead to legal immigrants being wrongly detained or deported if the federal government’s ability to review became overwhelmed. Arizona’s Governor Brewer appealed the ruling on July 29, 2010 and a request was made for the case to be expedited through the appeal process.

Briefs were filed in August and response briefs in September. On November 1, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard the oral arguments. Three judges sit on the panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At the time the case was heard, the panel was composed of John T. Noonan, Carlos Bea, and Richard Paez. The ruling made on April 11, 2011 by the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Obama administration and against Arizona by upholding the district court’s ban on parts of the law taking effect. Judge John T. Noonan joined Judge Richard Paez on the majority opinion while Judge Carlos Bea dissented in part.

Governor Brewer decided to appeal directly to the Supreme Court instead of requesting a hearing before all judges of the Ninth Circuit court, not just a panel of three, known as a hearing en banc. The appeal to the Supreme Court was filed on August 10, 2011 and in December 2011, the Supreme Court announced that it would review the Arizona law and granted a certiorari. Oral arguments were heard by SCOTUS on April 25, 2012 with the exception of Justice Elena Kagan who recused herself from the case for having defended the federal government’s position against Arizona while she was the United States Solicitor General.

SCOTUS ruled on June 25, 2012, striking down three of the four provisions of S.B. 1070 that they concluded to be preempted by federal law and therefore unconstitutional. Arizona can not require legal immigrants to carry registration documents at all times, allow state police to arrest any individual for suspicion of being an illegal immigrant, or make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to search for a job in the state. The fourth provision that was upheld as constitutional was allowing state police to investigate the immigration status of an individual when stopped, detained, or arrested, but with the specification that they could not be detained for prolonged amounts of time and any possible racial profiling cases would be allowed to proceed through the courts if they occurred.

Justice Kennedy, who was joined by Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Sotomayor, wrote the majority opinion. Both Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented, wanting to uphold the law in its entirety as not preempted by the Federal Government, while Justice Alito agreed only in part with the majority opinion.


Arizona et al. v. united states. (April , 2012 25). Retrieved from

Photo by Megan Burns on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Sun, Feb 07, 2021. The Anatomy of a Supreme Court Case Retrieved from

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