Justices Kennedy and Roberts join court majorities as the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state laws on political corruption, immigration, and mandatory life sentences for youthful offenders.
As much of the court-watching world awaits its decision on state challenges to the nation’s new (2010) health insurance reform law, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down state laws from Alabama, Arkansas, and Montana, and most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. According to the Washington Post, the court will render its decision on the challenges to the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.
Of the three decisions announced today, the most anticipated involved the Obama Administration’s challenge to Arizona’s two year-old immigration law. Among other things, the aggressive Arizona law made it a crime for immigrants not to register with the government and to look for a job without proper documentation. Although a narrow court majority rejected most of the Arizona law’s key provisions, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld that part of the law that orders state law enforcement officers to check on the immigration status of people they detain for other reasons and whom they suspect are not U.S. citizens or in the country legally.
The court’s decision in Arizona v. United States was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy who, in striking down three provisions of the Arizona law was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Chief Justice Roberts.
In a decision that reiterated earlier Supreme Court rulings against state laws imposing draconian sentences on minors, the court also struck down state laws from Arkansas and Alabama that required mandatory life time sentences for minors convicted of murder. In these cases, the Supreme Court was hearing appeals from boys from Arkansas and Alabama who were 14 years old at the time their crimes occurred.
Writing for the court majority, Justice Elena Kagan noted that the court’s previous sentencing decisions “make clear that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles. By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”
To read more select Miller v. Alabama.
Finally, in another defeat for proponents of campaign finance reform, the Court reiterated its controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in overturning a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court. Subsequent to Citizens United, the Montana court had upheld the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act which was written to restrict corporate influence on state elections. Joining Montana in its effort to sustain its law were U.S. Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse. But in a short statement released today, the Court said simply that the arguments set forward by the State of Montana were rejected by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.
Tim Connor for the Center for Justice