The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down key parts of an Arizona law that sought to deter illegal immigration, but let stand a controversial provision allowing police to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.
In a decision sure to ripple across the political landscape in a presidential election year, the court's 5-3 ruling upheld the authority of the federal government to set immigration policy and laws.
"The National Government has significant power to regulate immigration," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."
But while concluding that the federal government has the power to block the law, the court let stand one of the most controversial parts: a provision that lets police check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws if "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the United States illegally. Critics said that law opens the door to racial profiling.
"There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced," Kennedy wrote, making clear that Arizona authorities must comply with federal law in conducting the immigration status checks or face further constitutional challenges.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police said it wasn't immediately clear whether authorities would begin checking motorists' immigration status while enforcing other laws. They referred questions to the Arizona attorney general's office, which did not immediately return a call Monday from CNN seeking comment, but Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told reporters she expected the provision would go into effect immediately.
Brewer, a Republican who signed the legislation, called the decision "a victory for the people of Arizona and for America." In an interview on CNN's "John King USA," she said Arizona police and sheriff's deputies have been trained to avoid racial profiling, "and they don't profile."
President Barack Obama also expressed concern that immigration status checks allowed by Monday's ruling could lead to racial profiling by police. In a written statement, Obama said, "No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like."
And his administration said it would not assist Arizona's efforts. Administration officials announced Thursday that they have canceled agreements that allowed some Arizona police departments to enforce federal immigration laws, and the Justice Department set up a telephone hotline and e-mail address for the public to report civil rights concerns about the law's enforcement.
Brewer responded angrily to the decision, calling it "outrageous."
"I think this is another assault on the state of Arizona," she told CNN. "It began with them downplaying our border problem and them not securing it, and then, you know, suing the state of Arizona for trying to protect the people of Arizona and of America, then doing backdoor amnesty."
Brewer told reporters earlier that she expected further lawsuits on the immigration status checks, adding, "this certainly is not the end of our journey."
Opponents of the Arizona law have dubbed the immigration-status provision the "show me your papers" law, arguing that it unfairly targets Latinos.
"I know they will not be using that kind of tactic on people with the last name Roberts, Romney, or Brewer, but if your name is something like Gutierrez or Chung or Obama, watch out," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois. "The express goal of the authors of Arizona's SB 1070 is to make life miserable for immigrants so that they will leave, and a key tool in that effort was upheld by the court."
And Rep. Charles Gonzalez, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told "John King USA" that he expects the Arizona law will lead to racial profiling "on a grand scale" and eventually come back before the court.
"My prediction is that the other shoe will drop, and that this fourth provision will be ruled unconstitutional," said Gonzalez, D-Texas.
Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican challenger in November's election, blamed the president for what he called a "muddle" left in the wake of the court's ruling.
"The president promised in his campaign that in his first year, he would take on immigration and solve our immigration challenges, put in place a long-term program to care for those who want to come here legally, to deal with illegal immigration, to deal with securing our borders," Romney said during a campaign stop in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona. "All these things he was going to in his first year. He had a Democrat House and a Democrat Senate, but he didn't do it. Isn't it time for the American people to ask him why?"
But Gonzalez said Romney "knows better."
"It has not been the Democrats in Congress who have pushed back, it has been the Republicans," he said.
The Arizona law generated immediate controversy after Brewer signed it in April 2010. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a travel alert for Arizona, and dozens of groups canceled meetings or conventions. The federal government challenged four provisions of the Arizona law that never were enforced, pending the legal ruling.
Provisions struck down included:
• Authorizing police to arrest illegal immigrants without warrant where "probable cause" exists that they committed any public offense making them removable from the country.
• Making it a state crime for "unauthorized immigrants" to fail to carry registration papers and other government identification.
• Forbidding those not authorized for employment in the United States to apply, solicit or perform work. That would include illegal immigrants standing in a parking lot who "gesture or nod" their willingness to be employed.