This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 25, 2012 - The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three key provisions of Arizona's immigration law on Monday, reaffirming the federal government's preeminence in immigration matters and giving President Barack Obama a victory in a bitterly contested case. States can't make it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to live in the state or to work or seek a job. But Arizona may be able to require a person to present papers, such as a driver's license, during a police stop.
The court upheld one part of the Arizona law, requiring police to check the status of someone they suspect is not in the U.S. legally. Arizona Daily Star
Arizona governor calls ruling a victory. Politico
Court rejects Montana law on campaign finance limits. Reuters
Court limits life sentences for juvenile murderers. Bloomberg
In another case a bitterly divided court ruled 5-4 that the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids a state criminal sentencing requiring life in prison without parole for juveniles under 18. The decision could affect 2,500 people serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. Justice Samuel Alito read at length from his strong dissent in which he wrote that the decision would block a life sentence without parole even for "a 17½-year-old who sets off a bomb in a crowded mall or guns down a dozen students."
In a third case, the court refused to reconsider its controversial Citizens United decision permitting corporations to make unlimited independent contributions to political campaigns. The Montana Supreme Court had ruled that the history of election corruption in that state required limitations on corporate expenditures. But the five more conservative justices on the court reversed that decision without hearing an argument. In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote, "There can be no serious doubt" that Citizens United applied to Montana and the state had failed "to meaningfully distinguish that case." Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the liberal dissenters, said that the court should have reconsidered Citizens United.
Greg P. Margarian, a constitutional law expert at Washington University, said that the Arizona decision was a "big win for the administration. Even though the court did not strike down the "stop and check" provision of the law allowing officers to ask for a person's papers, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's reasoning "strongly indicates that only a narrow version of that practice will pass muster: no holding jaywalkers for two days while checking their immigration status," he said. "The court basically reduces (the provision) to a communication process and warns against racial profiling in application."
Magarian called the Montana campaign finance case "significant, but not surprising." The dissent shows that the newest members of the court, Justice Elena Kagan, endorses the dissenters' view of Citizens United, meaning "the liberals have a solid four to overturn it." That would only matter if Obama wins reelection and has a chance to replace Justice Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia, he pointed out.
The court did not announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Obama health-care law. That decision will be announced on Thursday.
A number of legal experts speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts appears to be writing the health-care decision, based on which justices have announced decisions in recent days. That may marginally increase the likelihood that the court will strike it down, some experts said. Roberts joined the majority in the Arizona case, possibly insulating him a bit from a charge of activism if he writes the decision striking down the federal health-care law, said the experts.