Key Part of Ariz.'s SB 1070 Too Vague, Voided by 9th Circuit

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A portion of Arizona's controversial anti illegal-immigrant law has been blocked and held as void by the 9th Circuit, finding that the language of the law was too vague to enforce.

The federal appellate court upheld a lower court's injunction stopping the enforcement of part of Arizona's SB 1070, which made it a criminal offense to "harbor or transport" illegal immigrants.

What part of this Arizona law was too vague to enforce?

SB 1070 Loses in Court Again

Arizona lawmakers passed SB 1070 in April 2010. Also known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, it enacted a number of laws regarding the verification and criminalization of undocumented immigrants in the state.

Many of SB 1070's provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, including the provision that allowed Arizona to impose a criminal punishment simply for being an undocumented immigrant in the state.

The Act has been successfully defeated in the 9th Circuit before as well, with the court upholding a federal injunction preventing the state from enforcing provisions of SB 1070 punishing those who do not carry registration papers.

Just last week, another portion of the law fell before the federal court, as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona's criminalization of transporting and harboring illegal immigrants was both vague and pre-empted by federal law.

Pre-Emption and Vagueness

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents state governments from passing any laws that intrude into the area of the federal government's regulation. One of those areas is the regulation and enforcement of immigration; matters in which a state's laws are overridden and held invalid by federal law are considered to be pre-empted by federal law.

The 9th Circuit decided in Valle Del Sol v. Whiting that the Arizona law that criminalized harboring illegal aliens was pre-empted by federal immigration law. As federal law already punishes harboring and smuggling illegal aliens, Arizona's law is invalid, the court held.

The court also pointed out that Arizona's "unintelligible" law criminalized "a person who is in violation of a criminal offense" from transporting or harboring immigrants, without actually defining "criminal offense."

Criminal laws like SB 1070's which are too vague to be understood by a reasonable person are also invalid under the void for vagueness doctrine. Basically, if citizens can't understand what a criminal law prohibits and the law encourages police enforcement in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, the law cannot stand.

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