424 U.S. 351 (1976), 74-882, De Canas v. Bica

Docket Nº:No. 74-882
Citation:424 U.S. 351, 96 S.Ct. 933, 47 L.Ed.2d 43
Party Name:De Canas v. Bica
Case Date:February 25, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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424 U.S. 351 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 933, 47 L.Ed.2d 43

De Canas

v.

Bica

No. 74-882

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 25, 1976

Argued December 16, 1975

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

Section 2805(a) of the California Labor Code, which prohibits an employer from knowingly employing an alien who is not entitled to lawful residence in the United States if such employment would have an adverse effect on lawful resident workers, held not to be unconstitutional as a regulation of immigration or as being preempted under the Supremacy Clause by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Pp. 354-365.

(a) Standing alone, the fact that aliens are the subject of a state statute does not render it a regulation of immigration. Even if such local regulation has some purely speculative and indirect impact on immigration, it does not thereby become a constitutionally proscribed regulation of immigration that Congress itself would be powerless to authorize or approve. Pp. 354-356.

(b) Preemption on the basis of congressional intent to "occupy the field," and thereby invalidate even harmonious state regulation, is not required in this case either because "the nature of the regulated subject matter permits no other conclusion" or because "Congress has unmistakably so ordained" that result. Florida Lime & Avocado Growers v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142. Section 2805(a) is clearly within a State's police power to regulate the employment relationship so as to protect workers within the State, and it will not be presumed that Congress, in enacting the INA, intended to oust state authority to regulate the employment relationship covered by § 2805(a) in a manner consistent with pertinent federal laws, absent any showing of such intent either in the INA's wording or legislative history or in its comprehensive scheme for regulating immigration and naturalization. Rather than there being evidence that Congress "has unmistakably . . . ordained" exclusivity of federal regulation in the field of employment of illegal aliens, the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act, whose provisions prohibiting farm labor contractors from employing illegal aliens, were enacted to supplement state action, is persuasive evidence that the INA should not be taken as legislation expressing Congress' judgment to have uniform federal regulations

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in matters affecting employment of illegal aliens, and therefore barring state legislation such as § 2805(a). Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52; Pennsylvania v. Nelson, 350 U.S. 497, distinguished. Pp. 356-363.

(c) It is for the California courts to construe § 2805(a), and then to decide in the [96 S.Ct. 935] first instance whether and to what extent § 2805(a), as construed, is unconstitutional as conflicting with the INA or other federal laws or regulations. Pp. 363-365.

40 Cal.App.3d 976, 115 Cal.Rptr. 444, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

California Labor Code Ann. § 2805(a) provides that

[n]o employer shall knowingly employ an alien who is not entitled to lawful residence in the United States if such employment would have an adverse effect on lawful resident workers.1

The question presented in this case is whether § 2805(a) is unconstitutional either because it

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is an attempt to regulate immigration and naturalization or because it is preempted under the Supremacy Clause, Art. VI, cl. 2, of the Constitution, by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 66 Stat. 163, as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., the comprehensive federal statutory scheme for regulation of immigration and naturalization.

Petitioners, who are migrant farmworkers, brought this action pursuant to § 2805(c) against respondent farm labor contractors in California Superior Court. The complaint alleged that respondents had refused petitioners continued employment due to a surplus of labor resulting from respondents' knowing employment, in violation of § 2805(a), of aliens not lawfully admitted to residence in the United States. Petitioners sought reinstatement and a permanent injunction against respondents' willful employment of illegal aliens.2 The Superior Court, in an unreported opinion, dismissed the complaint, holding

that Labor Code 2805 is unconstitutional . . . [because] [i]t encroaches upon, and interferes with, a comprehensive regulatory scheme enacted by Congress in the exercise of its exclusive power over immigration. . . .

App. 17a. The California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, affirmed, 40 Cal.App.3d 976, 115 Cal.Rptr. 444 (1974). The Court of Appeal held that § 2805(a) is an attempt to regulate the conditions for admission of foreign nationals, and therefore unconstitutional because, "in the area of immigration and naturalization, congressional power is exclusive."

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Id. at 979, 115 Cal.Rptr. at 446.3 The Court of Appeal further indicated that state regulatory [96 S.Ct. 936] power over this subject matter was foreclosed when Congress, "as an incident of national sovereignty," enacted the INA as a comprehensive scheme governing all aspects of immigration and naturalization, including the employment of aliens, and "specifically and intentionally declined to add sanctions on employers to its control mechanism." Ibid.4 The Supreme Court of California denied review. We granted certiorari 422 U.S. 1040 (1975). We reverse.

I

Power to regulate immigration is unquestionably exclusively a federal power. See, e.g., Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283 (1849); Henderson v. Mayor of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1876); Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S.

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275 (1876); Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698 (1893). But the Court has never held that every state enactment which in any way deals with aliens is a regulation of immigration, and thus per se preempted by this constitutional power, whether latent or exercised. For example, Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U.S. 410, 415-422 (1948), and Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372-373 (1971), cited a line of cases that upheld certain discriminatory state treatment of aliens lawfully within the United States. Although the "doctrinal foundations" of the cited cases, which generally arose under the Equal Protection Clause, e.g., Clarke v. Deckebach, 274 U.S. 392 (1927), "were undermined in Takahashi," see In re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717, 718-722 (1973); Graham v. Richardson, supra at 372-375, they remain authority that, standing alone, the fact that aliens are the subject of a state statute does not render it a regulation of immigration, which is essentially a determination of who should or should not be admitted into the country, and the conditions under which a legal entrant may remain. Indeed, there would have been no need, in cases such as Graham, Takahashi, or Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52 (1941), even to discuss the relevant congressional enactments in finding preemption of state regulation if all state regulation of aliens was ipso facto regulation of immigration, for the existence vel non of federal regulation is wholly irrelevant if the Constitution of its own force requires preemption of such state regulation. In this case, California has sought to strengthen its economy by adopting federal standards in imposing criminal sanctions against state employers who knowingly employ aliens who have no federal right to employment within the country; even if such local regulation has some purely speculative and indirect impact on immigration, it does not thereby become

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a constitutionally proscribed regulation of immigration that Congress itself would be powerless to authorize or approve. Thus, absent congressional action, § 2805 would not be an invalid state incursion on federal power.

II

Even when the Constitution does not itself commit exclusive power to regulate a particular field to the Federal [96 S.Ct. 937] Government, there are situations in which state regulation, although harmonious with federal...

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