In a weighty case with far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an Arizona law that requires all businesses to check to make sure new workers are in the country legally — and in the process signaled the states can have a greater say on immigration issues.
The 5-3 ruling did not directly address a second Arizona law that granted police broader powers to check immigrants’ status and set off nationwide protests by immigrant rights groups last year. But the decision does touch on many of the same issues of federal versus state authority, and seemed to show an openness by a majority of justices to action by the states.
At issue in Thursday’s ruling was whether Arizona can require businesses to use E-Verify, a voluntary program the federal government offers businesses to check whether their job applicants are work-eligible. The Obama administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the requirements went too far.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts, writing the majority opinion, said that while federal law makes the checks voluntary, it does not specifically bar states from making them mandatory. Because Arizona’s law doesn’t impose criminal penalties and deals only with businesses’ licenses, it doesn’t impinge on federal authority.