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In one of the most highly anticipated Supreme Court rulings of the year, the court on June 25 struck down three of the four challenged provisions of the Arizona immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. The court said the remaining provision could still face challenges once it goes into effect. None of the four provisions have been in effect since the law passed in 2010 due to court injunctions.
The one part the court preserved was state law enforcement officers' ability to check the immigration status of those they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally, which Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer described as the "heart" of the law. Most public attention has centered on allegations that the provision would result in racial profiling, but the federal government never challenged the provision in court on that basis. Chief Justice John Roberts made sure in the oral arguments to point out that the court was not addressing potential racial profiling at all.
The court, by a 5-3 decision, struck down three other provisions: Section 3, which made being in the country illegally a crime; Section 5(c), which made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work or attempt to work; and Section 6, which allowed law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests of undocumented immigrants.
The decision will ripple to states beyond Arizona, because over the last two years a number of them-Utah, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina-have passed similar immigration laws and have faced similar legal challenges. Some federal courts were waiting on the Supreme Court's ruling to decide these other states' cases.
Rulings on rules
The Supreme Court issued other big decisions as its term began to wind down. In Federal Communications Commission v. Fox, the court declined to strike down rules prohibiting indecent content-be it nudity or swear words-between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on broadcast channels, which are publicly owned. The rules are designed to protect children, but the networks complained that the rules were vague and arbitrarily enforced. The networks also argued that the rules were increasingly irrelevant when the internet and cable channels have no such rules about indecency. The court didn't rule on whether the indecency rules were constitutional, but it did overturn two specific instances where the FCC reprimanded FOX and fined ABC affiliates. The court said that at the time the FCC hadn't given the networks "fair notice" about their indecency rules. That narrow ruling means cases against the indecency rules are likely to continue.
In Knox v. Service Employees International Union, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that public sector unions can't force non-union workers to pay for the unions' political activities. In fact, the ruling went further in saying that such workers would have to opt-in to fund a union's political activities. That means, likely, that only employees who enthusiastically support the union's political efforts would choose to pay the extra money. Justice Stephen Breyer, who filed a dissenting opinion, predicted that the opt-in requirement would "reduce union revenues significantly." Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with the decision overall, but dissented from the "opt-in" portion of the decision, saying it went beyond the scope of the case. The ruling is another blow to labor unions' political efforts, after a defeat in their effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.