INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana law enforcement officers are permanently blocked from arresting those whose immigration status is questionable under a ruling issued Friday by a U.S. District Court judge.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker also struck down a portion of Indiana's 2011 law that would have prohibited the use of consular identification cards.
Her long-anticipated ruling was a setback for state lawmakers who had tried to beef up Indiana's anti-illegal immigration laws, although it leaves in place portions of 2011's Senate Enrolled Act 590 that penalize employers for knowingly hiring undocumented workers.
After a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Arizona's similar statute, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he would not longer defend the Indiana law on behalf of the state.
That prompted three frustrated Republican state senators – Mike Delph of Carmel, Brent Steele of Bedford and Phil Boots of Crawfordsville – tried to do it in his place. Barker ruled Friday that those senators did not have the authority to do so.
"Allowing the three individual legislators to intervene here in their official capacities as State Senators not only would conflict with this well-settled state law, but would provide the legislators a trump card with respect to the Attorney General's statutorily derived discretion in this context," Barker wrote.
Zoeller said he takes his role defending the state's laws seriously, but that Indiana's law had no chance of withstanding a legal challenge after the Supreme Court's ruling. He said he was pleased that Barker did not give the senators the power fight for the state in court.
"The court recognized that the office of the Attorney General has faithfully defended all provisions of this statute until the U.S. Supreme Court last June said that state-level warrantless arrest laws are preempted as unconstitutional," Zoeller said in a statement.
"Now that the federal court decision reinforces what we said all along -- that immigration enforcement is a federal government not a state responsibility -- this case is at an end and the state will not appeal."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had challenged the state's statute, which was signed into law by former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Its legal director, Ken Falk, said Friday that the court's decision was the right one.
"This ruling demonstrates that the Constitution applies to all Indiana residents and that the state cannot presume to regulate immigration," Falk said.