563 U.S. 582


certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 09115.Argued December 8, 2010Decided May 26, 2011

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) makes it unlawful for a person or other entity to hire, or to recruit or refer for a fee, for employment in the United States an alien knowing the alien is an unauthorized alien. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(a)(1)(A). Employers that violate that prohibition may be subjected to federal civil and criminal sanctions. IRCA also restricts the ability of States to combat employment of unauthorized workers; the Act expressly preempts any State or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens. 1324a(h)(2).

IRCA also requires employers to take steps to verify an employees eligibility for employment. In an attempt to improve that verification process in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), Congress created E-Verifyan internet-based system employers can use to check the work authorization status of employees.

Against this statutory background, several States have recently enacted laws attempting to impose sanctions for the employment of unauthorized aliens through, among other things, licensing and similar laws. Arizona is one of them. The Legal Arizona Workers Act provides that the licenses of state employers that knowingly or intentionally employ unauthorized aliens may be, and in certain circumstances must be, suspended or revoked. That law also requires that all Arizona employers use E-Verify.

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States and various business and civil rights organizations (collectively Chamber) filed this federal preenforcement suit against those charged with administering the Arizona law, arguing that the state laws license suspension and revocation provisions were both expressly and impliedly preempted by federal immigration law, and that the mandatory use of E-Verify was impliedly preempted. The District Court found that the plain language of IRCAs preemption clause did not invalidate the Arizona law because the law did no more than impose licensing conditions on businesses operating within the State. Nor was the state law preempted with respect to E-Verify, the court concluded, because although Congress had made the program voluntary at the national level, it had expressed no intent to prevent States from mandating participation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

558 F.3d 856, affirmed.

<tab>The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and IIA, concluding that Arizonas licensing law is not expressly preempted.

Arizonas licensing law falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the States and therefore is not expressly preempted. While IRCA prohibits States from imposing civil or criminal sanctions on those who employ unauthorized aliens, it preserves state authority to impose sanctions through licensing and similar laws. 1324a(h)(2). That is what the Arizona law doesit instructs courts to suspend or revoke the business licenses of in-state employers that employ unauthorized aliens. The definition of license contained in the Arizona statute largely parrots the definition of license that Congress codified in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The state statute also includes within its definition of license documents such as articles of incorporation, certificates of partnership, and grants of authority to foreign companies to transact business in the State, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23211(9), each of which has clear counterparts in APA and dictionary definitions of the word license. And even if a law regulating articles of incorporation and the like is not itself a licensing law, it is at the very least similar to one, and therefore comfortably within the savings clause. The Chambers argument that the Arizona law is not a licensing law because it operates only to suspend and revoke licenses rather than to grant them is without basis in law, fact, or logic.

The Chamber contends that the savings clause should apply only to certain types of licenses or only to license revocation following an IRCA adjudication because Congress, when enacting IRCA, eliminated unauthorized worker prohibitions and associated adjudication procedures in another federal statute. But no such limits are even remotely discernible in the statutory text.

The Chambers reliance on IRCAs legislative history to bolster its textual and structural arguments is unavailing given the Courts conclusion that Arizonas law falls within the plain text of the savings clause. Pp. 915.

<tab>The Chief Justice , joined by Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy , and Justice Alito , concluded in Part IIB:

The Arizona licensing law is not impliedly preempted by federal law. At its broadest, the Chambers argument is that Congress intended the federal system to be exclusive. But Arizonas procedures simply implement the sanctions that Congress expressly allowed the States to pursue through licensing laws. Given that Congress specifically preserved such authority for the States, it stands to reason that Congress did not intend to prevent the States from using appropriate tools to exercise that authority.

And here Arizonas law closely tracks IRCAs provisions in all material respects. For example, it adopts the federal definition of who qualifies as an unauthorized alien, compare 8 U.S.C. 1324a(h)(3) with Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23211(11); provides that state investigators must verify the work authorization of an allegedly unauthorized alien with the Federal Government, making no independent determination of the matter, 23212(B); and requires a state court to consider only the federal governments determination, 23212(H).

The Chambers more general contention that the Arizona law is preempted because it upsets the balance that Congress sought to strike in IRCA also fails. The cases on which the Chamber relies in making this argument all involve uniquely federal areas of interest, see, e.g., Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Comm. , 531 U.S. 341. Regulating in-state businesses through licensing laws is not such an area. And those cases all concern state actions that directly interfered with the operation of a federal program, see, e.g., id., at 351. There is no similar interference here.

The Chamber asserts that employers will err on the side of discrimination rather than risk the business death penalty by hiring unauthorized workers. That is not the choice. License termination is not an available sanction for merely hiring unauthorized workers, but is triggered only by far more egregious violations. And because the Arizona law covers only knowing or intentional violations, an employer acting in good faith need not fear the laws sanctions. Moreover, federal and state antidiscrimination laws protect against employment discrimination and provide employers with a strong incentive not to discriminate. Employers also enjoy safe harbors from liability when using E-Verify as required by the Arizona law. The most rational path for employers is to obey both the law barring the employment of unauthorized aliens and the law prohibiting discrimination. There is no reason to suppose that Arizona employers will choose not to do so. Pp. 1522.

The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part IIIA, concluding that Arizonas E-Verify mandate is not impliedly preempted.

Arizonas requirement that employers use E-Verify is not impliedly preempted. The IIRIRA provision setting up E-Verify contains no language circumscribing state action. It does, however, constrain federal action: absent a prior violation of federal law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may not require any person or entity outside the Federal Government to participate in E-Verify. IIRIRA, 402(a), (e). The fact that the Federal Government may require the use of E-Verify in only limited circumstances says nothing about what the States may do. The Government recently argued just that in another case and approvingly referenced Arizonas law as an example of a permissible use of E-Verify when doing so.

Moreover, Arizonas use of E-Verify does not conflict with the federal scheme. The state law requires no more than that an employer, after hiring an employee, verify the employment eligibility of the employee through E-Verify. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23214(A). And the consequences of not using E-Verify are the same under the state and federal lawan employer forfeits an otherwise available rebuttable presumption of compliance with the law. Pp. 2324.

The Chief Justice , joined by Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy , and Justice Alito , concluded in Part IIIB:

Arizonas requirement that employers use E-Verify in no way obstructs achieving the aims of the federal program. In fact, the Government has consistently expanded and encouraged the use of E-Verify, and Congress has directed that E-Verify be made available in all 50 States. And the Government has expressly rejected the Chambers claim that the Arizona law, and those like it, will overload the federal system. Pp. 2425.

Roberts, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Parts IIB and IIIB. Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and Thomas, J., joined as to Parts I, IIA, and IIIA and concurred in the judgment. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Kagan, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

B. WHITING etal.

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

[May 26, 2011]

Justice Breyer , with whom Justice Ginsburg joins, dissenting.

The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (Act or IRCA) pre-empts any State or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit, or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(h)(2). The state law before us, the Legal Arizona Workers Act, imposes civil sanctions upon those who employ unauthorized aliens. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23211 et seq. (West Supp. 2010). Thus the state law falls within the federal Acts general pre-emption rule and is pre-emptedunless it also falls within that rules exception for licensing and similar laws. Unlike the Court, I do not believe the state law falls within this exception, and I consequently would hold it pre-empted.

Arizona calls its state statute a licensing law, and the statute uses the word licensing. But the statute strays beyond the bounds of the federal licensing exception, for it defines license to include articles of incorporation and partnership certificates, indeed virtually every state-law authorization for any firm, corporation, or partnership to do business in the State. 23211(9)(a); cf. 23211(9)(c) (excepting professional licenses, and water and environmental permits). Congress did not intend its licensing language to create so broad an exemption, for doing so would permit States to eviscerate the federal Acts pre-emption provision, indeed to subvert the Act itself, by undermining Congress efforts (1) to protect lawful workers from national-origin-based discrimination and (2) to protect lawful employers against erroneous prosecution or punishment.

Dictionary definitions of the word licensing are, as the majority points out, broad enough to include virtually any permission that the State chooses to call a license. See ante , at 10 (relying on a dictionary and the federal Administrative Procedure Act). But neither dictionary definitions nor the use of the word license in an unrelated statute can demonstrate what scope Congress intended the word licensing to have as it used that word in this federal statute . Instead, statutory context must ultimately determine the words coverage . Context tells a driver that he cannot produce a partnership certificate when a policeman stops the car and asks for a license. Context tells all of us that licensing as used in the Act does not include marriage licenses or the licensing of domestic animals. And context, which includes statutory purposes, language, and history, tells us that the federal statutes licensing language does not embrace Arizonas overly broad definition of that term. That is to say, ordinary corporate charters, certificates of partnership, and the like do not fall within the scope of the word licensing as used in this federal exception. See Dolan v. Postal Service , 546 U.S. 481, 486 (2006) (statutory interpretation requires courts to rea[d] the whole statutory text, conside[r] the purpose and context of the statute, and consul[t] any precedents or authorities that inform the analysis); United States v. Heirs of Boisdor , 8 How. 113, 122 (1849) (similar).


To understand how the majoritys interpretation of the word licensing subverts the Act, one must understand the basic purposes of the pre-emption provision and of the Act itself. Ordinarily, an express pre-emption provision in a federal statute indicates a particular congressional interest in preventing States from enacting laws that might interfere with Congress statutory objectives. See International Paper Co. v. Ouellette , 479 U.S. 481, 494 (1987) . The majoritys reading of the provisions licensing exception, however, does the opposite. It facilitates the creation of obstacle[s] to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council , 530 U.S. 363, 373 (2000) (quoting Hines v. Davidowitz , 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941) ).


Essentially, the federal Act requires employers to verify the work eligibility of their employees. And in doing so, the Act balances three competing goals. First, it seeks to discourage American employers from hiring aliens not authorized to work in the United States. H.R. Rep. No. 99682, pt. 1, p.56 (1986).

Second, Congress wished to avoid placing an undue burden on employers, id. , at 90, and the Act seeks to prevent the harassment of innocent employers, S.Rep. No. 99132, p.35 (1985).

Third, the Act seeks to prevent employers from disfavoring job applicants who appear foreign. Reiterating longstanding antidiscrimination concerns, the House Committee Report explained:

Numerous witnesses have expressed their deep concern that the imposition of employer sanctions will cause extensive employment discrimination against Hispanic-Americans and other minority group members. These witnesses are genuinely concerned that employers, faced with the possibility of civil and criminal penalties, will be extremely reluctant to hire persons because of their linguistic or physical characteristics. H.R. Rep. No. 99682, at 68.

See also 42 U.S.C. 2000e2(a)(1) (making it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of such individuals race, color, religion, sex, or national origin); U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, The Tarnished Golden Door: Civil Rights Issues in Immigration 74 (1980) (finding that increased employment discrimination against United States citizens and legal residents who are racially and culturally iden-tifiable with major immigrant groups could be the un-intended result of an employer sanctions law). The Committee concluded that every effort must be taken to minimize the potentiality of discrimination. H.R. Rep. No. 99682, at 68.


The Act reconciles these competing objectives in several ways:

First, the Act prohibits employers from hiring an alien knowing that the alien is unauthorized to work in the United States. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(a)(1)(A).

Second, the Act provides an easy-to-use mechanism that will allow employers to determine legality: the I9 form. In completing an I9 form, the employer certifies that he or she has examined one or two documents ( e.g., a passport, or a drivers license along with a Social Security card) that tend to confirm the workers identity and employability. 1324a(b)(1). Completion of the form in good faith immunizes the employer from liability, even if the worker turns out to be unauthorized. 1324a(a)(3), 1324a(b)(6).

A later amendment to the law also allows an employer to verify an employees work eligibility through an Internet-based federal system called E-Verify. If the em-ployer does so, he or she will receive the benefit of a rebuttable presumption of compliance. Illegal Immigration Re-form and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), 402(b), 110 Stat. 3009656 to 3009657, note following 8 U.S.C. 1324a, p.331 (Pilot Programs for Employment Eligibility Confirmation).

Third, the Act creates a central enforcement mechanism. The Act directs the Attorney General to establish a single set of procedures for receiving complaints, investigating those complaints that have a substantial proba-bility of validity, and prosecuting violations. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(e)(1). The relevant immigration officials and administrative law judges have the power to access necessary evidence and witnesses, 1324a(e)(2), and the employer has the right to seek discovery from the Federal Government, 28 CFR 68.18 (2010). The employer also has the right to administrative and judicial review of the administrative law judges decision. 68.54, 68.56.

Fourth, the Act makes it an unfair immigration-related employment practice to discriminate against any individual in respect to employment because of such individuals national origin. 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a).

Fifth, the Act sets forth a carefully calibrated sanction system. The penalties for hiring unauthorized aliens are graduated to prevent the Act from unduly burdening employers who are not serious offenders. As adjusted for inflation, civil penalties for a first violation of the employment restrictions range from $375$3,200 per worker, and rise to $3,200$16,000 per worker for repeat offenders. 1324a(e)(4)(A); 73 Fed. Reg. 10133 (2008); see also 1324a(f) (imposing criminal fines of not more than $3,000 per worker and imprisonment for up to six months for pattern or practice violators of employment restrictions).

As importantly, the Act limits or removes any incentive to discriminate on the basis of national origin by setting antidiscrimination fines at equivalent levels: $375$3,200 per worker for first-time offenders, and $3,200$16,000 per worker for repeat offenders. 1324b(g)(2)(B)(iv); 73 Fed. Reg. 10134. The Act then ties its unlawful employment and antidiscrimination provisions together by providing that, should the antihiring provisions terminate, the antidiscrimination provisions will also terminate, 1324b(k), the justification for them having been removed, H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 991000, p.87 (1986).


Now, compare and contrast Arizonas statute. As I have said, that statute applies to virtually all business-related licenses, other than professional licenses. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23211(9). Like the federal Act, the state law forbids the employment of unauthorized aliens. 23212(A), 23212.01(A). It also provides employers with somewhat similar defenses. 23212(I)(J), 23212.01(I)(J). But thereafter the state and federal laws part company.

First, the state statute seriously threatens the federal Acts antidiscriminatory objectives by radically skewing the relevant penalties. For example, in the absence of the Arizona statute, an Arizona employer who intentionally hires an unauthorized alien for the second time would risk a maximum penalty of $6,500. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(e)(4) (A)(ii); 73 Fed. Reg. 10133. But the Arizona statute subjects that same employer (in respect to the same two incidents) to mandatory, permanent loss of the right to do business in Arizonaa penalty that Arizonas Governor has called the business death penalty. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23212.01(F)(2); News Release, Governor Signs Employer Sanctions Bill (2007), App. 399. At the same time, the state law leaves the other side of the punishment balancethe antidiscrimination sideunchanged.

This is no idle concern. Despite the federal Acts efforts to prevent discriminatory practices, there is evidence that four years after it had become law, discrimination was a serious problem. In 1990, the General Accounting Office identified widespread discrimination as a result of the Act. Report to the Congress, Immigration Reform: Employer Sanctions and the Question of Discrimination 3, 37, 80. Sixteen percent of employers in Los Angeles admitted that they applied the I9 requirement only to foreign-looking or foreign-sounding persons, and 22 percent of Texas employers reported that they began a practice to (1) hire only persons born in the United States or (2) not hire persons with temporary work eligibility documents because of the Act. Id. , at 4143. If even the federal Act (with its carefully balanced penalties) can result in some employers discriminating, how will employers behave when erring on the side of discrimination leads only to relatively small fines, while erring on the side of hiring unauthorized workers leads to the business death penalty?

Second, Arizonas law subjects lawful employers to in-creased burdens and risks of erroneous prosecution. In addition to the Arizona laws severely burdensome sanctions, the laws procedures create enforcement risks not present in the federal system. The federal Act creates one centralized enforcement scheme, run by officials versed in immigration law and with access to the relevant federal documents. The upshot is an increased likelihood that federal officials (or the employer) will discover whether adverse information flows from an error-prone source and that they will proceed accordingly, thereby diminishing the likelihood that burdensome proceedings and liability reflect documentary mistakes.

Contrast the enforcement system that Arizonas statute creates. Any citizen of the State can complain (anonymously or otherwise) to the state attorney general (or any county attorney), who then shall investigate, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23212(B) (emphasis added), and, upon a determination that that the complaint is not false and frivolous shall notify the appropriate county attorney to bring an action, 23212(C)(3). This mandatory language, the lower standard (not frivolous instead of substantial), and the removal of immigration officials from the state screening process (substituting numerous, elected county attorneys) increase the likelihood that suspicious circumstances will lead to prosecutions and liability of employerseven where more careful investigation would have revealed that there was no violation.

Again, this matter is far from trivial. Studies of one important source of Government informationthe E-Verify systemdescribe how the federal administrative process corrected that systems tentative unemployable indications 18% of the time . This substantial error rate is not a function of a small sample size. See ante , at 26, n. 12. Rather, data from one fiscal year showed 46,921 workers initially rejected but later confirmed as work authorizedall while E-Verify was used by only a fraction of the Nations employers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Statistics and Reports, http:// www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9a c89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextchannel=7c579589cdb76210V gnVCM100000b92ca60aRCRD (Feb. 4, 2011) (as visited May 18, 2011, and available in Clerk of Courts case file). That is to say nearly one-in-five times that the E-Verify system suggested that an individual was not lawfully employable ( i.e. , returned a tentative nonconfirmation of work authorization), the system was wrong; and subsequent review in the federal administrative process determined as much. (And those wrongly identified were likely to be persons of foreign, rather than domestic, origin, by a ratio of approximately 20 to 1.) See Westat, Findings of the E-Verify Program Evaluation xxxi, 210, 246 (Dec. 2009) (assessing data from April to June 2008). E-Verifys accuracy rate is even worse in states that require the use of E-Verify for all or some of their employees. Id. , at 122.

A related provision of the state law aggravates the risk of erroneous prosecutions. The state statute says that in determining whether an employee is an unauthorized alien, the court shall consider only the federal governments determination pursuant to 8 [U.S.C.] 1373(c). Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23212(H). But the federal provision to which the state law refers, 8 U.S.C. 1373(c), says only that the Federal Government, upon a States request, shall verify a persons citizenship or immigration status. It says nothing about work authorization. See post , at 710 ( Sotomayor, J. , dissenting). It says nothing about the source of the Federal Governments information. It imposes no duty upon the Federal Government or anyone else to investigate the validity of that information, which may falsely implicate an employer 18% of the time.

So what is the employer to do? What statute gives an employer whom the State proceeds against in state court the right to conduct discovery against the Federal Government? The Arizona statute, like the federal statute, says that the employers use of an I9 form provides a defense. But there is a hitch. The federal Act says that neither the I9 form, nor any information contained in or appended to the form, may be used for pur-poses other than for enforcement of this federal Act. 1324a(b)(5). So how can the employer present a defense, say, that the Governments information base is flawed? The majority takes the view that the forms are not necessary to receive the benefit of the affirmative defense. Ante , at 18, n.9. But the I9 form would surely be the employers most effective evidence. See also post , at 11 ( Sotomayor, J. , dissenting) (suggesting that the unavailability of I9 forms to defend against state-court charges means that Congress intended no such proceedings).

Nor does the Arizona statute facilitate the presentation of a defense when it immediately follows (1) its statement that the court shall consider only the federal governments determination when it considers whether an employee is an unauthorized alien with (2) its statement that [t]he federal governments determination creates a rebuttable presumption of the employees lawful status. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23212(H) (emphasis added). The two statements sound as if they mean that a Federal Government determination that the worker is unlawful<linebreak> is conclusive against the employer, but its determination that the workers employment is lawful is subject to rebuttal by the State. Arizona tells us that the statute means the opposite. See ante , at 16, n. 7. But the legal briefs of Arizonas attorney general do not bind the state courts. And until the matter is cleared up, employers, despite I9 checks, despite efforts to use E-Verify, will hesitate to hire those they fear will turn out to lack the right to work in the United States.

And that is my basic point. Either directly or through the uncertainty that it creates, the Arizona statute will impose additional burdens upon lawful employers and consequently lead those employers to erect ever stronger safeguards against the hiring of unauthorized alienswithout counterbalancing protection against unlawful discrimination. And by defining licensing so broadly, by bringing nearly all businesses within its scope, Arizonas statute creates these effects statewide.

Why would Congress, after deliberately limiting ordinary penalties to the range of a few thousand dollars per illegal worker, want to permit far more drastic state penalties that would directly and mandatorily destroy entire businesses? Why would Congress, after carefully balancing sanctions to avoid encouraging discrimination, want to allow States to destroy that balance? Why would Congress, after creating detailed procedural protections for employers, want to allow States to undermine them? Why would Congress want to write into an express pre-emption provisiona provision designed to prevent States from undercutting federal statutory objectivesan exception that could so easily destabilize its efforts? The answer to these questions is that Congress would not have wanted to do any of these things. And that fact indicates that the majoritys reading of the licensing exceptiona reading that would allow what Congress sought to forbidis wrong.


The federal licensing exception cannot apply to a state statute that, like Arizonas statute, seeks to bring virtually all articles of incorporation and partnership certificates within its scope. I would find the scope of the exception to federal pre-emption to be far more limited. Context, purpose, and history make clear that the licensing and similar laws at issue involve employment-related licensing systems.

The issuance of articles of incorporation and partnership certificates and the like have long had little or nothing to do with hiring or employment. Indeed, Arizona provides no evidence that any State, at the time the federal Act was enacted, had refused to grant or had revoked, say, partnership certificates, in light of the partners hiring practices of any kind, much less the hiring of unauthorized aliens. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 29308 (limited partnership formed upon the filing of a certificate of partnership providing names and addresses); 29345 (providing for dissolution of a limited partnership [o]n application by or for a partner or assignee whenever it is not reasonably practicable to carry on the business in conformity with the partnership agreement).

To read the exception as covering laws governing corporate charters and partnership certificates (which are not usually called licensing laws) is to permit States to turn virtually every permission-related state law into an employment-related licensing law. The State need only call the permission a license and revoke the license should its holder hire an unauthorized alien. If what was not previously an employment-related licensing law can become one simply by using it as a sanction for hiring unauthorized aliens or simply by state definition, indeed, if the State can call a corporate charter an employment-related licensing law, then why not an auto licensing law (amended to revoke the drivers licenses of those who hire unauthorized aliens)? Why not a dog licensing law? Or why not impute a newly required license to conduct any business to every human being in the State, withdrawing that license should that individual hire an unauthorized alien? See S.C. Code Ann. 41820 (Supp. 2010) (providing that [a]ll private employers in South Carolina shall be imputed a South Carolina employment license, which permits a private employer to employ a person in this State, but conditioning the license on the companys not hiring unauthorized aliens).

Such laws might prove more effective in stopping the hiring of unauthorized aliens. But they are unlikely to do so consistent with Congress other critically important goals, in particular, Congress efforts to protect from discrimination legal workers who look or sound foreign. That is why we should read the federal exemptions licensing laws as limited to those that involve the kind of licensing that, in the absence of this general state statute, would nonetheless have some significant relation to employment or hiring practices. Otherwise we read the federal licensing exception as authorizing a State to undermine, if not to swallow up, the federal pre-emption rule.


I would therefore read the words licensing and similar laws as covering state licensing systems applicable primarily to the licensing of firms in the business of recruiting or referring workers for employment, such as the state agricultural labor contractor licensing schemes in existence when the federal Act was created. This reading is consistent with the provisions history and language, and it minimizes the risk of harm of the kind just described.

The Acts history supports this interpretation. Ever since 1964, the Federal Government has administered statutes that create a federal licensing scheme for agricultural labor contractors, firms that specialize in recruiting agricultural workers and referring them to farmers for a fee. Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act of 1963 (FLCRA), 78 Stat. 920; Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA), 96 Stat. 2583. The statutes require agricultural labor contractors to register with the federal Secretary of Labor, to obtain a registration certificate (in effect a license), and to require the contractors employees to carry that certificate with them when engaging in agricultural labor contracting activities. AWPA 101; FLCRA 4. The statutes list a host of forbidden activities, one of which (prior to 1986) was hiring unauthorized aliens. See AWPA 103, 106; FLCRA 5(b). Prior to 1986, if the federal Labor Department believed a firm had violated these substantive provisions, it could institute administrative proceedings within the Labor Department. And if the Secretary found the labor contracting firm had violated the provisions, the Secretary could impose monetary penalties or withdraw the firms registration. AWPA 103, 503; FLCRA 5(b), 9.

Most important, and unlike the 1986 Act before us, the earlier agricultural labor contracting statutes did not pre-empt similar state laws . To the contrary, the earlier Acts were intended to supplement State law and did not excuse any person from compliance with appropriate State law and regulation. AWPA 521; see FLCRA 12. By 1986, nearly a dozen States had developed state licensing systems for agricultural labor contractors, i.e. , firms that recruited and referred farm (and sometimes forestry) workers for a fee; some of these laws provided that state licenses could be revoked if the contractors hired unauthorized aliens. See, e.g., Cal. Lab. Code 1690(f) (Deering Supp. 1991); 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. 1301.503(4), 1301.505(3) (19651983 Supp. Pamphlet); Ore. Rev. Stat. 658.405(1), 658.440(2)(d) (1987) (covering forestry workers).

In 1986, Congress (when enacting the Act now before us) focused directly upon the earlier federal agricultural labor contractor licensing system. And it changed that earlier system by including a series of conforming amendments in the Act. One amendment removes from the earlier statutes the specific prohibition against hiring unauthorized aliens. It thereby makes agricultural labor contractors subject to the Acts similar general prohibition against such hiring. IRCA 101(b)(1)(C) (repealing AWPA 106). Another amendment takes from the Secretary of Labor most of the Secretarys enforcement powers in respect to the hiring of unauthorized aliens. It thereby leaves agricultural labor contractors subject to the same single unified enforcement system that the immigration Act applies to all employers. See 29 U.S.C. 1853. A third amendment, however, leaves with the Secretary of Labor the power to withdraw the federal registration certificate from an agricultural labor contractor that hired unauthorized aliens. IRCA 101(b)(1)(B)(iii), 29 U.S.C. 1813(a)(6). Thus, the Act leaves this subset of employers ( i.e. , agricultural labor contractors but not other employers) subject to a federal licensing scheme.

So far, the conforming amendments make sense. But have they not omitted an important matter? Prior to 1986, States as well as the Federal Government could license agricultural labor contractors. Should the 1986 statute not say whether Congress intended that dual system to continue? The answer is that the 1986 Act does not omit this matter. It answers the coexistence question directly with the parenthetical phrase we are now considering, namely, the phrase, other than through licensing and similar laws, placed in the middle of the Acts pre-emption provision. 8 U.S.C. 1324a(h)(2). That phrase refers to agricultural labor contractors, and it says that, in respect to those licensing schemes, dual state/federal licensing can continue.

As of 1986, there were strong reasons for permitting that dual system to continue in this specialized area . Dual enforcement had proved helpful in preventing particularly serious employment abuses. See, e.g. , 128 Cong. Rec. 24090 (1982) (reflecting concerns that agricultural workers were housed in hovels; subjected to physical abuse and kept in virtual slavery). And because the contractors business consists of providing labor forces, their hiring of authorized workers is closely related to their general fitness to do business. See S.Rep. No. 202, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1963) (explaining that farm labor contractor registration laws are needed to prevent irresponsible crew leaders from exploit[ing] farmers); Martin, Good Intentions Gone Awry: IRCA and U.S. Agriculture, 534 Annals Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 44, 49 (1994) (describing how farmers who relied on contractors risked losing their labor forces to immigration raids). Dual enforcement would not create a federal/state penalty disparity, for federal systems as well as state systems provide for license revocation. Experience had shown that dual enforcement had not created any serious conflict or other difficulty. And in light of the specialized nature and comparatively small set of businesses subject to dual enforcement, to permit licensing of that set of businesses would not seriously undermine the objectives of the Act or its pre-emption provision.

Thus, it is not surprising that the legislative history of the 1986 Acts pre-emption provision says that the licensing exception is about the licensing of agricultural labor contractors. The House Report on the Act, referring to the licensing exception, states that the Committee did not intend to preempt licensing or fitness to do business laws, such as state farm labor contractor laws or forestry laws, which specifically require such licensee or contractor to refrain from hiring, recruiting or referring undocumented aliens . H.R. Rep. No. 99682, at 58 (emphasis added).

The Acts language, while not requiring this interpretation, is nonetheless consistent with limiting the scope of the phrase in this way. Context can limit the application of the term licensing to particular types of licensing. The Acts subject matter itself limits the term to employment-related licensing. And the Acts specific reference to those who recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens, is consistent with employment-related li-censing that focuses primarily upon labor contracting businesses.

Thus, reading the phrase as limited in scope to laws licensing businesses that recruit or refer workers for employment is consistent with the statutes language, with the relevant history, and with other statutory provisions in the Act. That reading prevents state law from undermining the Act and from turning the pre-emption clause on its head. That is why I consider it the better reading of the statute.


Another section of the Arizona statute requires every employer, after hiring an employee, to verify the employment eligibility of the employee through the Federal Governments E-Verify program. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 23214. This state provision makes participation in the federal E-Verify system mandatory for virtually all Arizona employers. The federal law governing the E-Verify program, however, creates a program that is voluntary. By making mandatory that which federal law seeks to make voluntary, the state provision stands as a significant obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress, Crosby , 530 U.S., at 373 (quoting Hines , 312 U.S., at 67). And it is consequently pre-empted.

The federal statute itself makes clear that participation in the E-Verify program is voluntary. The statutes relevant section bears the title Voluntary Election to Participate in a Pilot Program. IIRIRA 402, note following 8 U.S.C. 1324a, p.331. A subsection bears the further title, Voluntary Election. 402(a). And within that subsection, the statute says that employers may elect to participate. (Emphasis added.) The statute elsewhere requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to widely publicize the voluntary nature of the program. 402(d)(2); see also 402(d)(3)(A) (requiring the designation of local officials to advertise the voluntary nature of the program). It adds that employers may terminate their election to participate by following certain procedures. 402(c)(3). And it tells the Secretary of Homeland Security (as an earlier version told the Attorney General) that she may not require any person or other entity to participate. 402(a); see also 402(e) (creating exceptions, none of which is applicable here, that require federal employers and certain others to participate in E-Verify or another pilot program).

Congress had strong reasons for insisting on the voluntary nature of the program. E-Verify was conceived as, and remains, a pilot program. Its database consists of tens of millions of Social Security and immigration records kept by the Federal Government. These records are prone to error. See, e.g., Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration, Congressional Response Report: Accuracy of the Social Security Administrations Numident File 12 (2006) (hereinafter Social Security Report) (estimating that 3.3 million naturalized citizens are misclassified in a Social Security database used by E-Verify); GAO, Employment Verification: Federal Agencies Have Taken Steps to Improve E-Verify, but Significant Challenges Remain 16 (GAO11146, 2010) (hereinafter GAO Report) (noting that erroneous [nonconfirmations] related to name inconsistencies remain an issue that can create the appearance of discrimination because of their disparate impact on certain cultural groups). And making the program mandatory would have been hugely expensive. See post , at 16 ( Sotomayor, J. , dissenting).

The E-Verify program is still a pilot program, as a matter of statute and practice. See IIRIRA 401; Letter from H. Couch to R. Stana (Dec. 8, 2010) (discussing aspects of E-Verify that have yet to be implemented). The effects of the programs efforts to take account of, and correct for, potential errors remain uncertain. Congress could decide that, based on the results of the pilot, E-Verify should become a mandatory program. But it has not yet made that determination. And in making that decision, it will have to face a number of questions: Will workers receiving tentative negative verdicts understand the possibility of administrative challenge? Will they make the effort to invoke that process, say traveling from a farm to an urban Social Security office? Will employers prove willing to undergo the financial burden of supporting a worker who might lose the challenge? Will employers hesitate to train those workers during the time they bring their challenges? Will employers simply hesitate to hire workers who might receive an initial negative verdictmore likely those who look or sound foreign? Or will they find ways to dismiss those workers? These and other unanswered questions convinced Congress to make E-Verify a pilot program, to commission continuous study and evaluation, and to insist that participation be voluntary.

In co-opting a federal program and changing the key terms under which Congress created that program, Arizonas mandatory state law simply ignores both the federal language and the reasoning it reflects, thereby posing an obstacle to the accomplishment of the objectives Congress statute evinces. Crosby , supra , at 373 (quoting Hines , supra , at 67).

The majority reaches a contrary conclusion by pointing out (1) that Congress has renewed the E-Verify program several times, each time expanding its coverage, to the point where it now encompasses all 50 States; (2) that the E-Verify database has become more accurate; (3) that the Executive Branch has itself mandated participation for federal contractors; and (4) that the statutes language tells the Secretary of Homeland Security, not the States, to maintain the program as voluntary.

The short, and, I believe, conclusive answers to these objections are: (1) Congress has kept the language of the statuteand the voluntary nature of the programthe same throughout its program renewals. See 115 Stat. 2407; 117 Stat. 1944; 547, 123 Stat. 2177. And it is up to Congress, not to Arizona or this Court, to decide when participation in the program should cease to be voluntary.

(2) The studies and reports have repeatedly found both (a) that the E-Verify program had achieved greater accuracy, but (b) that problems remain. See, e.g., Social Security Report 11 (estimating that Social Security records contain 4.8 million discrepancies that could require the numberholder to visit [the Social Security Administration] before employment eligibility would be confirmed); GAO Report 19 (estimating that, if E-Verify were made mandatory nationwide, 164,000 newly hired workers each year would erroneously be adjudged ineligible to work because of name mismatches, as when the workers first or last name is incorrectly spelled in government databases or on identification documents). And it is up to Congress, not to Arizona or this Court, to determine when the federally designed and federally run E-Verify program is ready for expansion.

(3) Federal contractors are a special group of employers, subject to many special requirements, who enter voluntarily into a special relation with the Government. For the Federal Government to mandate that a special group participate in the E-Verify program tells us little or nothing about the effects of a States mandating that nearly every employer within the State participateas Arizona has done. And insofar as we have not determined whether the Executive was authorized by Congress to mandate E-Verify for federal contractors, it says nothing about Congress intent.

(4) There is no reason to imply negatively from language telling the Secretary not to make the program mandatory, permission for the States to do so. There is no presumption that a State may modify the operation of a uniquely federal program like E-Verify. Cf. Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Comm. , 531 U.S. 341, 347348 (2001) ; Boyle v. United Technologies Corp. , 487 U.S. 500, 504505 (1988) ; see also post , at 1516 ( Sotomayor, J. , dissenting). The remaining federal statutory language makes clear the voluntary nature of the E-Verify program. Arizonas plan would undermine that federal objective.

For these reasons I would hold that the federal Act, including its E-Verify provisions, pre-empts Arizonas state law. With respect, I dissent from the majoritys contrary holdings.