SPLC Files Supreme Court Brief Opposing Arizona Law

The Southern Poverty Law Center and more than 100 of the nation’s civil rights and faith groups joined in filing a brief with the Supreme Court this week to oppose Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.

The amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court argues that S.B. 1070 and copycat bills, like those in Alabama, Georgia and other states also being challenged by the SPLC, are in fundamental conflict with federal law and would have an unprecedented negative impact on the lives of American citizens and others living legally in the United States.

The SPLC and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are joined in the amicus file by 105 other national and local groups.

"The bottom line is that these laws are blatantly unconstitutional and have wreaked havoc for citizens and non-citizens alike in the states where they have, even in a very limited way, gone into effect,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The brief argues that law-abiding Americans, particularly minorities, will be subject to constant scrutiny, lengthy detentions and false arrests. Arizona’s “papers please” approach, the document said, is based on the fallacy that law enforcement officers can readily determine a person’s status simply by reviewing the person’s documents or calling the federal government on the telephone.

Highlighted in the filing was Jim Shee, a lifelong Arizonan of Spanish and Chinese ancestry, who was stopped for no apparent reason and questioned by a Phoenix police officer, who demanded to see his “papers.” Shee was not given a citation. A similar incident played out for Shee in Yuma a mere 10 days later.

In Arizona, the Department of Public Safety makes well over 500,000 stops per year, the majority of them for minor traffic or equipment violations. As in Shee’s case, the brief said, over 98 percent do not result in arrest.

S.B. 1070 will transform such routine traffic stops into mini-trials where detained citizens bear the burden of proving their immigration status, and will harm racial and ethnic minorities in particular.

“People of color in Arizona are far more likely to be stopped by police than are their white counterparts,” according to the brief. “In Maricopa County—by far Arizona’s largest—Latino drivers are over four times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.”

These laws criminalize people whom Congress has chosen to protect, including asylum seekers and victims of domestic violence, and presume the existence of documents that many people simply do not have, thereby exposing them to arrest and criminal punishment.

Arizona’s legal arguments for the law, the groups’ brief said, are attempts to rewrite and rationalize S.B. 1070 to enable it to survive the upcoming Supreme Court review.

“S.B. 1070 and its copycats turn American justice on its head,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “These laws presume everyone is guilty, contradicting the fundamental American presumption that those accused are innocent until proven otherwise. Too many of us already know what that’s like. And we know the damage that racial profiling does – not only to us as individuals, but to entire communities.”