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High court upholds Az employer sanction law
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High court upholds Az employer sanction law

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Thursday an Arizona law that penalizes employers who hire illegal immigrants.

The 5-3 decision upholds the Legal Arizona Workers Act of 2007, which revokes the business license of employers who repeatedly hire undocumented workers. It also requires employers in the state to use the federal E-Verify system to check the status of prospective employees.

The law was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, civil rights groups, and the Obama administration.

It was signed into law by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, now the federal Secretary of Homeland Security.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the law "falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states," and that the law is not preempted by federal authority.

"Arizona has taken the route least likely to cause tension with federal law," Roberts wrote. "It relies solely on the federal government's own determination of who is an unauthorized alien, and it requires Arizona employers to use the federal government's own system for checking employee status."

Dissenting were Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who said federal law prohibits states from imposing their own immigration regulations on employers. Justice Elena Kagan, who was the nation's solicitor general when the case was appealed in 2010, recused herself from the case.

"Permitting states to make use of E-Verify mandatory improperly puts states in the position of making decisions... that directly affect expenditure and depletion of federal resources," Sotomayor wrote.

The law upsets a federal decision to balance discouraging employers from hiring undocumented workers and halting discrimination against those who may appear to be immigrants, Breyer wrote.

Employers "will hesitate to hire those they fear will turn out to lack the right to work in the United States" because they have an accent, he wrote in his dissent.

Although justices are nominally not political, the decision showed a party-line split. Those appointed by Republican presidents upheld the law, those voting to overturn it were appointed by Democrats.

The Arizona law allows the state to suspend the licenses of business that "intentionally or knowingly" violate requirements that they verify work eligibility for employees. It requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system, set up as a voluntary system, to check the documents of current workers and prospective hires.

Although a 1986 federal law limits the powers of states to regulate the employment of undocumented workers, there is an exception for "licensing and similar laws."

Thursday's decision was based on statutes and case law that do not necessarily apply to SB 1070. The decision does not signal how the court might rule on Arizona's law requiring law enforcement to check immigration status on those they stop.

Before making its way to the Supreme Court, the law was upheld by a federal judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Check back for updates.

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