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Federal Court Blocks Key Parts of Arizona’s Immigration Law

By Andrew Cohen

Berkeley Law graduate Richard Paez ’72 and former professor John Noonan formed the majority in a recent federal appeals court decision that rejected key provisions of Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges affirmed a district court’s ruling that Arizona cannot make its police demand proof of legal status from suspected illegal immigrants. Arizona argued that it was merely bolstering enforcement efforts because the federal government had not patrolled its borders sufficiently. But the court held that such activities impinge on federal authority and foreign policy.

Judge Paez’s majority opinion said, “Arizona has enacted a mandatory and systematic scheme that conflicts with Congress’ explicit requirement” that state agents are subject to federal direction and supervision when performing immigration officer functions. No statute, Paez added, demonstrates that Congress “intended to permit states to usurp the Attorney General’s role in directing state enforcement of federal immigration laws.”

Judge Noonan concurred in a separate opinion, noting that foreign policy is the federal government’s exclusive domain and stressing the need for states to operate under a uniform immigration policy. “That 50 individual states or one individual state should have a foreign policy is absurdity,” he wrote.

Judge Carlos Bea dissented on two of the four provisions at issue. But he agreed that it is unconstitutional for Arizona to impose penalties on top of federal punishment for those who do not meet federal registration requirements, and to make it illegal for an illegal alien to work or apply for a job.

Arizona officials will next determine whether to seek appellate review before the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc, meaning all the circuit’s judges would decide the case, or to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court.