At a glance: Supreme Court decision on Arizona's immigration law

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled largely in favor of the federal government in a case involving Arizona's immigration law (SB1070), striking down most of its key provisions. However, it upheld the most controversial provision involving police checks on people's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

A 5-3 ruling

The majority included Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Steven Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The minority included Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito.

"Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermined federal law," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

"The national government has significant power to regulate immigration"-- Justice Anthony Kennedy

"If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign state," Scalia wrote in the dissent backed by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Key provisions


The court let stand one of the most controversial parts of the bill -- a provision that lets police check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws if "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the United States illegally.

Struck down

The Supreme Court's 5-3 ruling struck down key parts of the Arizona law. Provisions struck down included:

• Authorizing police to arrest immigrants without warrant where "probable cause" exists that they committed any public offense making them removable from the country.

• Making it a state crime for "unauthorized immigrants" to fail to carry registration papers and other government identification.

• Forbidding those not authorized for employment in the United States to apply, solicit or perform work. That would include immigrants standing in a parking lot who "gesture or nod" their willingness to be employed.

Read the ruling (PDF)

By the numbers

Illegal immigrants in the U.S., 2005-2011


StateEstimated illegal immigrants
All States11,510,000
New York630,000
New Jersey420,000
North Carolina400,000
Other States3,100,000

Source: Department of Homeland Security

States with laws similar to Arizona's SB1070

Alabama's HB56 was signed June 9, 2011. Alabama's legislation requires law enforcement officers to determine immigration status during a lawful stop. Failure to carry alien registration papers is considered a crime in Alabama. Also in Alabama, is it unlawful for unauthorized aliens to solicit or perform work. Key provisions of the law were challenged and taken to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on October 14, 2011, where they were put on hold until addressed constitutionally.

Georgia's HB87 was signed May 13, 2011. In this legislation, police are empowered to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects during lawful stops. June 27, 2011 a federal judge from the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia temporarily blocked key provisions of the law until it was constitutionally addressed.

Indiana's SB 590 was signed May 10, 2011. The legislation allows officers to make a warrantless arrest upon a probable cause belief that the individual has been indicted or convicted of an aggravated felony.

South Carolina's S20, signed June 27, 2011, makes it a crime to not carry alien registration papers and makes it unlawful for unauthorized aliens to solicit or perform work.

Utah's "Utah Compact" was enacted on March 15, 2011. This package of laws (H116, H466, H469 and H497) includes immigration enforcement, immigrant integration, and a pilot temporary worker visa program.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

Produced by Alyssa McLendon and Curt Merrill