HR Management & Compliance

Supreme Court: Arizona Immigration Law That Targets Businesses Is Valid

U.S. Supreme Court BuildingThursday, May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Legal Arizona Workers Act (Act), an Arizona employment law that allows the state to sanction employers that knowingly or intentionally employ “unauthorized aliens.” The first provision of the Act punishes certain employers that hire unauthorized aliens by suspending or revoking their business licenses. The second provision requires employers to check the immigration status of new employees through E-Verify, a federal online employment verification program.

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, along with several business and civil rights organizations (collectively, Chamber), filed a federal lawsuit against the individuals tasked with administering the Act. The Chamber argued that federal immigration law preempted the two provisions of the Act. The district court determined that federal law didn’t preempt the Act because the law imposed licensing conditions only on businesses operating within the state and the U.S. Congress hadn’t expressed the intent to prevent states from requiring employers to use E-Verify. The Ninth U.S. Circuit  Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.

In Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts and held that federal law doesn’t preempt the Act. The Court noted that although federal immigration law (specifically, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)) forbids states from imposing “civil or criminal sanctions” on businesses that employ unauthorized aliens, it allows states to impose sanctions “through licensing and similar laws.” The Chamber argued that the Act wasn’t a licensing law because it only suspends and revokes licenses instead of granting them, but the Court said this reasoning was “contrary to common sense” and had “no basis in law, fact, or logic.”

The Court also noted:

  • The Act simply implements sanctions that Congress expressly allowed the state “to pursue through licensing laws.”
  • Since Congress specifically preserved that authority for the states, Congress probably didn’t intend to prevent them from appropriately exercising such authority.
  • Arizona was very careful to make sure the Act closely tracked the IRCA’s provisions.
  • The state’s use of E-Verify doesn’t conflict with the federal scheme, and an employer’s failure to use E-Verify only causes it to forfeit the rebuttable presumption that it complied with the law (which is the same thing that would happen under federal law).

Learn more about how immigration laws affect employers in the Mastering HR Report: Immigration