Supreme Court Rules on other cases important to social work

Sep 10, 2012

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

In addition to upholding the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court in June handed down decisions in two other cases that are important to NASW and social workers.

The high court struck down the majority of Arizona’s immigration policy that critics charged as being excessive.

NASW’s Legal Defense Fund facilitated NASW’s participation in amicus curiae briefs in legal challenges to Arizona’s and Alabama’s immigration laws, United States v. Arizona and Hispanic Interest Coalition v. Bentley. They can be viewed at the LDF Amicus Brief Database:

Even though the court struck down key elements of the Arizona law, it let stand a provision, Section 2(B), that requires police to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws.

Melvin Wilson, manager of the NASW Department of Social Justice and Human Rights, said there is concern that law enforcement officials could abuse the provision by finding probable cause to stop anyone who appears to be Hispanic and require them to “show me your papers.”

This would constitute racial profiling, he said, but added that in the court’s majority opinion, the justices left the door open for further legal challenges if Section 2(B) is used to support racial profiling of undocumented immigrants.

NASW is actively working with coalitions to ensure an end to racial profiling in connection with immigration, Wilson said.

He submitted testimony on behalf of NASW that stated the association’s opposition to racial profiling at an April U.S. Senate hearing on the issue. NASW is on record in support of passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, or ERPA (H.R. 3618/S.1670).

If passed into law, the act would prohibit racial profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement and require federal law enforcement agencies to maintain policies and procedures to eliminate racial profiling.

ERPA is gaining support in Congress. Wilson stated that the Leadership Conference for Human and Civil Rights Racial Profiling Taskforce announced at its July meeting in Washington, D.C., that ERPA had 73 co-sponsors in the House and 16 co-sponsors in the Senate.

“We’re encouraging our members to contact their representatives in Washington to support this bill as we will continue to encourage support for anti-racial profiling measures at the grassroots and state levels as well,” Wilson said.

Another positive result from the Supreme Court ruling is that the majority of justices stipulated the federal government is responsible for setting immigration policy and laws.

“An important message in the ruling is that the court affirmed that federal laws will trump immigration legislation that a given state may attempt to implement,” Wilson said.

More information about NASW’s National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity can be found at

Also taking place in June, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life without parole sentences for youths convicted of murder.

In a 5-4 decision, the majority of justices said such laws violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling is consistent with the position taken in an amicus brief filed with the high court by the American Psychological Association and joined by NASW.

The ruling combined two cases, Miller v. Florida and Jackson v. Hobbs.

In the brief, it was noted that NASW opposes any legislation or prosecutorial discretion permitting children to be charged and punished under adult standards.

It explained that research supports the theory that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure, while at the same time they lack the freedom and autonomy that adults possess to escape such pressures.

In delivering the majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

From the September 2012 NASW News.

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