June is always a busy month at the Supreme Court. The court issues its most controversial rulings at the end of its term in June. For two consecutive years now, the court has issued major rulings on Arizona immigration laws.Last year, we reported to you on the ruling in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, upholding Arizona’s law sanctioning employers for hiring unauthorized aliens. See Legal News: Employment Law Update, June 6, 2011. In that decision, the court ruled that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act did not preempt the Arizona law allowing Arizona courts to suspend or revoke the business licenses of employers that knowingly or intentionally employ unauthorized aliens.
On June 25, 2012, the court ruled in Arizona v. United States on the federal government’s broad constitutional powers when it comes to immigration. In its ruling, the court held that the federal government’s power to regulate immigration trumped three of four sections of Arizona law that had been blocked by a lower federal court of appeals. Unlike the ruling in June 2011, which directly impacted employers, this year’s ruling has more of an indirect effect on employers: It means that immigration laws that have gained traction at the state level may be soon struck down, and it also means that if your state does not already have such laws, they may not be passed there. For employers, the good news is that states are now unlikely to continue to pass a patchwork of different kinds of immigration laws that would require employers with employees in various states to tailor compliance efforts on a state-by-state basis. Federal preemption of immigration will help employers to maintain a uniform national policy in this area, much as federal preemption of employee benefits, in the form of ERISA, helps employers maintain a uniform national policy in that area.
June is now over, but stay tuned next year for more big Supreme Court rulings that will affect your labor and employment law compliance.