Enforcement in Kind: Reexamining the Preemption Doctrine

By Hochul, William,, III | Notre Dame Law Review, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Enforcement in Kind: Reexamining the Preemption Doctrine


Hochul, William,, III, Notre Dame Law Review


INTRODUCTION

In early 1995, a fight broke out between Cesar Herante, Guillermo Escobedo, and Justin Younie in Hawarden, Iowa. Younie was killed following a series of stab wounds from Herante and Escobedo. (1) Younie's death "in the small Iowa town in which he was born and raised" (2) sparked national outrage because his killers were unauthorized aliens. Federal lawmakers--fearing that state and local governments were powerless to stop violent aliens--quickly created a mechanism for local agencies to "join the fight against illegal immigration." (3)

Fifteen years later, Robert Krentz was murdered near his home on the Arizona-Mexico border. (4) His death came amidst growing discontent with the federal government's ability and eagerness to curtail movement across the border, which was perceived as both an economic and security threat to American citizens. (5) Arizona responded by enacting legislation that empowered state and local officers to enforce immigration law of their own accord. (6) A critical component of the law--the "Papers, Please" provision--required state and local officers to perform immigration checks during any stops or detentions that raise reasonable suspicion of unauthorized presence in the United States. (7) Shortly after the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Arizona law was preempted by federal immigration law, (8) Alabama passed an identical provision that was eventually upheld by the Eleventh Circuit. (9)

This Note uses Arizona v. United States (10) as a platform to reexamine preemption jurisprudence and sets forth a comprehensive framework for analyzing federal-state conflicts. Part I establishes the foundation of federal preemption in immigration law and evaluates the role and operation of competing preemption principles. Part II critiques United States v. Arizona and United States v. Alabama and sets the stage for the case before the Court. Part III applies the framework set forth in this Note to Arizona v. United States and offers a resolution to the federal-state conflict presented to the Court. While the Arizona and Alabama Papers, Please provisions further Congress's overarching goal of strengthening immigration enforcement, the process they implement undermines Congress's ability to account for the collateral implications of empowering thousands of local officers to enforce federal immigration law. By vesting affirmative duties in state and local officers that subvert the top-down enforcement mechanism created by Congress, the Arizona and Alabama laws conflict with, and are therefore preempted by, federal law.

I. FEDERAL PREEMPTION IN IMMIGRATION LAW

Recent challenges to local and state immigration regulations are rooted in the preemption doctrine. (11) This Part establishes the foundation of federal preemption and examines its application in the sphere of immigration law. The principles set forth in this Part will guide the forthcoming analysis of Arizona v. United States.

A. The Framework of Federal Preemption

The constitutional foundation for the preemption doctrine lies in the Supremacy Clause, which dictates "[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof ... under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land ... any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." (12) As a result, "any state law, however clearly within a State's acknowledged power, must yield if it interferes with or is contrary to [valid] federal law...." (13) In sum, "if a federal statute establishes a rule, and if the Constitution grants Congress the power to establish that rule, then the rule preempts whatever state law it contradicts." (14)

Thus, the Supremacy Clause establishes a rule of federal priority when a court must choose between applying state or federal laws. (15) The challenge for the court is to draw the line between compatibility and conflict. …

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