The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key part of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants on Monday but struck down three other parts of the state law, delivering a mixed ruling for the Obama administration on federal power to enforce immigration statutes in the United States.
In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the country's highest court by an 8-0 vote upheld the Arizona law's most controversial aspect, requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for any reason.
But in a split verdict, the justices also ruled that the three other provisions of the Western state's 2010 law that were challenged in court by the Obama administration went too far. The votes on those provisions were either 5-3 or 6-2, with the more conservative justices in dissent.
These three provisions required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police arrest of immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.
"Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration ... but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law," Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 25-page opinion.
The decision in part was an election-year setback for President Barack Obama, but was less of a defeat than had been envisioned after oral arguments before the justices in April. The majority opinion's sweeping rhetoric could cloud state efforts to try to curb illegal immigration.
Justice Kennedy stressed that the federal government has "broad, undoubted power" over immigration, pointing to how federal policy could affect trade, investment, tourism and diplomatic relations.
The majority that struck down three challenged parts of the Arizona law also included Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as the more liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, the nation's first Hispanic justice.
"I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration law. What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system - it's part of the problem," Obama said in a statement.
Obama said he remained concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law. "Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the court's decision recognizes," Obama said.