WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld an Arizona law that allows the state to shut down businesses that hire illegal immigrants, a ruling arising from the fierce national debate on immigration policy.
The court's majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts rejected arguments by business and civil rights groups and by the Obama administration that the Arizona law conflicted with federal immigration law and must be struck down.
The Supreme Court's decision upholding the employer sanctions law could spur other states and cities to adopt their own tough anti-immigration measures.
The 2007 law backed by the court is different from the strict Arizona law adopted last year and criticized by President Barack Obama that required the police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
A federal judge and then a U.S. appeals court put the newer law's most controversial provisions on hold. Arizona has vowed to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.
About 11 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the United States. Immigration has become a major issue in states such as Arizona on the border with Mexico.
The Arizona law suspends or revokes licenses to do business in the state to penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. It requires employers to use an electronic verification system to check the work-authorization status of employees through federal records.
The Legal Arizona Workers Act was adopted after a federal immigration overhaul law died in Congress in 2007. The Obama administration and Congress have been unable to agree on comprehensive immigration measures.
A U.S. appeals court upheld the Arizona business law, and by a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court affirmed that ruling. "Arizona has taken the route least likely to cause tension with federal law," Roberts concluded in the 27-page opinion.
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented and said they would hold that the Arizona law was pre-empted by federal law.
The Supreme Court case is Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, No. 09-115.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.