The Corner

An Abominable Decision

This is a typical example of a judge stating the correct legal standard, but then ignoring it and applying the test in a fashion completely divorced from the facts of the case in order to reach a predetermined decision.

First, the court states correctly that the sort of constitutional challenge brought here — a facial challenge — is the most difficult challenge to mount successfully. It requires that the plaintiff (here the federal government) must demonstrate that the law can never be applied in a constitutional fashion. The test cannot be met with hypothetical arguments — yet that is exactly what the court relies on in its ruling: the assertion that the AZ law will impose an impermissible burden on law enforcement, which is to determine the legal status of a person detained pursuant to the AZ law on the reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. The court does not provide any empirical basis to support its conclusion. It’s pure supposition.

As the court notes, the burden a party must meet when engaging in a facial challenge of a given statute is established in United States v. Salerno. The court pays lip service to Salerno at the beginning of its analysis on the “likelihood of success on the merits,” but then proceeds to ignore the Salerno principles.

The court cites Salerno when it notes: “A facial challenge must fail where a statute has a ‘plainly legitimate sweep.’” In deciding a facial challenge, courts “must be careful not to go beyond the statute’s facial requirements and speculate about ‘hypothetical’ or imaginary cases.” Then the court doesn’t even attempt to actually analyze the provisions it overturns within the Salerno context, except in one instance — in fn. 18 — where it upholds a provision of SB 1070.

Distinguish the facial challenge from an as-applied challenge. At one point the court engages in a hypothetical example, when it talks about a potential unfair burden on a legal alien failing to have a dog on a leash, wondering whether he could be detained and subject to an impermissible burden for not carrying his papers under that circumstance. (The court talks about John Doe, a legal alien from Chile who was walking his dog without a leash and was stopped by Sheriff Smith and detained at the local jail for eight hours while his status was checked. It didn’t actually happen.)

The judge also worries that increasing the time a person is detained while his immigration status is being determined might be unconstitutional. Again, pure speculation. (Moreover, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has already found that such a delay is permissible where there is reasonable suspicion to check a person’s status.)

In the bulk of its legal analysis, the court applies a selective reading of the case to an incomplete reading of the statute. In particular, respecting the provision related to confirming a person’s legal status, the court largely ignores the requirement that law-enforcement officers are able to confirm a person’s legal status only where there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the country illegally. The judge essentially omits the reasonable-suspicion component of the law and concludes that the act implements a new set of immigration rules particular to Arizona, in violation of a case called Hines v. Davidowitz.

Hines is an old case dealing with a vastly different Pennsylvania law. Here’s what the Hines court correctly concluded: “The question whether a state law is invalid as conflicting with Federal laws touching the same subject is not to be determined according to any rigid formula or rule, but depends upon whether, under the circumstances of the particular case, the state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”

The Pennsylvania act required every alien 18 years or over, with certain exceptions, to register once each year; provide such information as is required by the statute, plus any “other information and details” that the Department of Labor and Industry may direct; pay $1 as an annual registration fee; receive an alien identification card and carry it at all times; show the card whenever it may be demanded by any police officer or agent of the Department of Labor and Industry, and exhibit the card as a condition precedent to registering a motor vehicle in his name or obtaining a license to operate one. The Department of Labor and Industry is charged with the duties of classifying the registrations for “the purpose of ready reference,” and furnishing a copy of the classification to the Pennsylvania Motor Police. Nonexempt aliens who fail to register are subject to a fine of not more than $100 or imprisonment for not more than 60 days, or both. For failure to carry an identification card or for failure to show it upon proper demand, the punishment is a fine of not more than $10, or imprisonment for not more than 10 days, or both.

“Our conclusion,” said the court, “is that [the challenger of the PA law] is correct in his contention that the power to restrict, limit, regulate, and register aliens as a distinct group is not an equal and continuously existing concurrent power of state and nation, but that whatever power a state may have is subordinate to supreme national law.” Hines does not support the court’s conclusion respecting the AZ statute. That case clearly deals with an entirely new legal regime. AZ’s statute merely complements the federal statutory scheme.

Amazingly, today’s decision does not provide any substantive analysis of the very high standards required for mounting a successful facial challenge. The judge thinks certain events or difficulties will occur, and then uses her thoughts as a substitute for empirical evidence. The fact is that the AZ law does not create any new or additional federal responsibilities. It does not establish any new or inconsistent obligations for aliens legally or illegally residing in or otherwise found in Arizona. And, unlike the Hines case so prominent in the court’s ruling, Arizona’s law does not establish any new or extra forms, registration procedures, or other obligations for aliens, legal or illegal.

Respecting preemption, which is the substantive core of the federal government’s case, once again the court presents no evidence in support of its conclusion that AZ is likely to impermissibly interfere with federal law on multiple fronts, including the requirement that aliens carry papers or that state and local law enforcement may undertake constitutionally proper inquiries into the legal status of those they stop. AZ isn’t requiring the federal government to do anything. The federal government can choose not to take AZ’s calls and not cooperate. The court has essentially parroted the federal government’s claims about burdens.

Moreover, the federal government does not “occupy the field” in any event. Indeed, as a matter of federal law and long-standing practice, it encourages states to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law — both in practice and law. In fact, it relies heavily on them.

Federal preemption can be either express or implied: express where the Constitution says so (declaration of war), implied by conflict with federal law. In the immigration context, implied preemption exists only 1) if a statute falls into the narrow category of a “regulation of immigration”; 2) if Congress expressed “the clear and manifest purpose” of completely occupying the field and displacing all state activity; or 3) if the state regulation conflicts with federal laws such that it “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of Congress” (De Canas v. Bica). Federal immigration law does not preempt AZ law, and the authors of the AZ law were well acquainted with the pitfalls they needed to avoid — and avoided them.

I think the word “abomination” does not overstate this court’s decision.

– Mark Levin is president of Landmark Legal Foundation, which has filed an amicus brief in this case.


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