chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
July 01, 2012

ABA reacts to Supreme Court rulings on immigration, juvenile sentencing

Association had submitted amicus briefs

The ABA welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling June 25 in Arizona, et al., v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), which held that federal law preempts three provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. 

The provisions rejected by the justices would have: made failing to comply with federal alien-registration requirements a state misdemeanor; made it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in the state of Arizona; and authorized state and local officers to arrest without a warrant a person an officer had probable cause to believe had committed a crime that would make the individual subject to removal from the United States.

The court explained that the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status rests in part on its constitutional power to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” and on its “inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations.”

The court found no basis at this time for preempting a fourth provision in the Arizona law that requires officers conducting a stop, detention or arrest to make an effort to verify the person’s immigration status.

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III said the ruling conforms with the ABA’s position, laid out in an association amicus brief, that immigration law and policy “are and must remain uniquely federal, with states having no role in immigration enforcement except pursuant to federal authorization and oversight.” He reiterated the ABA’s call for authorities to avoid unnecessary prolonged detention of individuals who are lawfully present in the United States when conducting immigration status checks allowed by the Arizona law.

In the criminal justice area, the ABA hailed the June 25 Supreme Court decision in the combined cases of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), and Jackson v. Hobbs, 567 U.S. ___ (2012). The court ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles convicted of homicide to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Juveniles are less morally culpable and more capable of rehabilitation then adults convicted of the same crime,” Robinson said in a statement following the decision. He noted that the court followed precedents in two previous decisions – Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), and Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) – in deciding the case.

The ABA, he said, has long maintained that the possibility of parole for juveniles will not compromise public safety or penal objectives. In an amicus brief submitted by the ABA, the association said that it is “not asserting that all juveniles should be entitled to parole, but only that they should not be denied the opportunity to be considered for parole before they die in prison.”

In the 5-4 decision, the justices pointed out that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment “guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions” and “flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.”

The court agreed with earlier decisions establishing that children are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes because their “‘lack of maturity’ and ‘underdeveloped sense of responsibility’ lead to recklessness, impulsivity and heedless risk-taking.”

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.