The Supreme Court upheld on Thursday an Arizona law that sanctions employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and it said such employers can lose their license to do business.
The 5-3 opinion represented a defeat for some civil rights groups who brought the challenge along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and for the Obama administration, according to a Los Angeles Times article. This coalition contended that under federal law, states are not allowed to impose “civil or criminal sanctions” on employers.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who wrote the majority opinion, said the challenged Arizona law was similar to ones enacted recently by Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, according to a New York Times report.
Roberts wrote that part of federal law clearly permits states to penalize employers by using their “licensing” statutes. In the decision, Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, he was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Dissenting, with the view that states are barred by federal law from setting immigration-related mandates on businesses, were Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan stepped aside from participating in the case. The former U.S. solicitor general has recused herself from hearing a number of matters where she had some involvement in a case in lower courts.
Critics said the Arizona law amounted to a “business death penalty” (see Gavel Grab).
The ruling did not involve a more controversial Arizona immigration law that would allow local police a larger role in arresting people whom they suspect came illegally to the United States.