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SCOTUS rules on immigration case, life sentences for juveniles

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The U.S. Supreme Court Monday affirmed in part and reversed in part Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The justices also found that a life sentence without possibility of parole for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment.

In Arizona, et al. v. United States, 11-182, Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion for the court. Only four provisions of the law were at issue. The majority found sections 3, 5(C) and 6 of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 are pre-empted by federal law.

Section 3, which makes failure to comply with federal alien registration requirements a state misdemeanor, “intrudes on the field of alien registration, a field in which Congress has left no room for States to regulate,” the opinion states. The criminal penalty in Section 5(C), a section that makes it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in the state, “stands as an obstacle to the federal regulatory system.” Section 6, which authorizes officers to arrest without a warrant someone “the officer has probable cause to believe … has committed any public offense that makes the person removable” from the U.S. also creates an obstacle to federal law by authorizing state and local officers to make warrantless arrests of certain aliens suspected of being removable.

The justices also decided it was improper to enjoin Section 2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without showing that the section’s enforcement actually conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives. Section 2(B) requires officers conducting a stop, detention or arrest to make efforts in some circumstances to verify the person’s immigration status with the federal government.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy’s opinion. Justices Antoin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Elena Kagan didn’t participate.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of homicides.

The decision comes in Miller v. Alabama, 10-9646, in which juvenile Miller and his friend beat Miller’s neighbor and set fire to his trailer after doing drugs and drinking. The neighbor died. Miller was in adult court on a charge of murder in the course of arson. He was found guilty and the trial court imposed a statutorily mandated life without parole. The Alabama appeals court affirmed. The companion case to Miller is Jackson v. Hobbs, director Arkansas Dept. of Correction, 10-9647, in which Jackson, who was 14, received a mandatory term of life in prison without possibility of parole after being convicted of murder.

The majority cited caselaw that established children are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes and those rulings show the flaws of imposing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole on juvenile homicide offenders.

Kagan delivered the court’s opinion and was joined by Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor. Bryer and Sotomayor also concurred in a separate opinion. Roberts dissented and was joined by Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Thomas and Alito also wrote dissenting opinions.

The Supreme Court also decided American Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al. v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General of Montana, et al., 11-1179. The Supreme Court of Montana was summarily reversed 5-4 on its ruling regarding a state law that a “corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or political party.” The state supreme court rejected the claim that the statute violates the First Amendment.

The justices found that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010), applies to the Montana law. Citizens United struck down a similar federal law, holding that political speech does not lose First Amendment protection just because it’s source is a corporation.

Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented. They said they would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United, or at least, its application in this case. Instead they voted to deny it because they did not believe Citizens United would be reconsidered by the court.

The much anticipated health care rulings will likely come Thursday, as the court announced it will sit again this week.

 

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  • LWOP for juveniles was not struck down
    The Miller case did not rule that life imprisonment without parole is unconstitutional. Rather it held that such statutes are unconstitutional only when they make LWOP mandatory without allowing the sentencer to consider facts such as the defendant's age.

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