PHOENIX – The state of Arizona has lost an appeal to reinstate a portion of its 2010 immigration enforcement law, SB 1070.
This decision, however, came down to the ineloquent way Arizona's legislature worded the statute.
The statute, which was created as part of SB 1070, makes it a state crime for a person who is already violating another crime to knowingly harbor, conceal or transport immigrants.
At least that is how lawyers representing the state of Arizona argued the statute should be interpreted.
The actual wording reads, “[i]t is unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense” to knowingly harbor, conceal or transport immigrants.
Judge Richard Paez, writing the opinion for the majority, found that phrase to be unintelligible, since it is possible to be in violation of a law, but not of a criminal offense. The panel ruled the statute is voided because of vagueness.
The judges' dissatisfaction with the statute's wording was evident during oral argument last April, when Judge John Noonan referred to it as "nonsense" according to an Associated Press report.
The panel on Tuesday affirmed a 2012 injunction put into effect by Federal District Judge Susan Bolton.
Two of the judges found that even if they did accept Arizona's interpretation of the statute, it can't take effect because is preempted by federal law – which was the justification Bolton used in her ruling.
Bolton had initially allowed the harboring and transporting statute to take effect in 2010, denying a U.S. Department of Justice request for an injunction.
But last year, a coalition of civil rights groups challenging SB 1070 in a separate suit successfully petitioned Bolton to reconsider.
At that point, the U.S. Supreme Court had already invalidated three parts of SB 1070 on preemption grounds, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had blocked similar harboring and transporting provisions in Georgia and Alabama.