Federal Judge Blasts Joe Arpaio’s Racial Profiling and Detention Policy

In a scathing decision just entered by Judge Murray Snow in the District Court for the District of Arizona, the court has hammered the racial profiling and detention policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The case is Melendres v. Arpaio, and the Arizona Republic described the decision thusly:

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has engaged in racial profiling and must not use Hispanic ancestry as a factor when making law-enforcement decisions, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow issued the ruling Friday, more than eight months after a seven-day trial on the subject concluded. The trial examined longstanding allegations that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s emphasis on immigration enforcement led deputies to target Latino drivers based on their race, and that by doing so, they violated the constitutional rights of Maricopa County residents and the sheriff’s own policies requiring constitutional policing.
The class of Hispanic citizens that brought the racial-profiling lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office never sought monetary damages. Instead, the group asked for the court to issue injunctions barring Arpaio’s office from discriminatory policing.

Snow obliged — and indicated more remedies could be ordered in the future.

Here is a link to the full decision.

The decision is long at 142 pages, but it is beautiful and contains specific findings of fact and conclusions of law that will make it hard to reverse on appeal to the 9th Circuit. There is no question but that Arpaio will appeal, but he will not be doing so from a good position in light of this decision.

Here are some quick highlights:

As is set forth below, in light of ICE’s cancellation of the MCSO’s 287(g) authority, the MCSO has no authority to detain people based only on reasonable suspicion, or probable cause, without more, that such persons are in this country without authorization.

Thus, the MCSO’s LEAR policy that requires a deputy (1) to detain persons she or he believes only to be in the country without authorization, (2) to contact MCSO supervisors, and then (3) to await contact with ICE pending a determination how to proceed, results in an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.


Thus, to the extent it uses race as a factor in arriving at reasonable suspicion or forming probable cause to stop or investigate persons of Latino ancestry for being in the country without authorization, it violates the Fourth Amendment. In addition, it violates the Plaintiff class’s right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Finally, the knowledge that a person is in the country without authorization does not, without more, provide sufficient reasonable suspicion that a person has violated Arizona criminal laws relating to immigration, such as the Arizona Human Smuggling Act, to justify a Terry stop for purposes of investigative detention. To the extent the MCSO is authorized to investigate violations of the Arizona Employer Sanctions law, that law does not provide criminal sanctions against either employers or employees. A statute that provides only civil sanctions is not a sufficient basis on which the MCSO can arrest or conduct Terry stops of either employers or employees.

There is a LOT of prime substance to this decision, and it all needed to be said. The fact that it comes with specific and articulated findings of fact and conclusions of law, after a trial, makes all the difference in the world as to strength. It is a treat for the Memorial Day weekend.

13 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:


    Thanks for sharing this. I haven’t read through the entire decision, but am very happy this Judge is a real one. I understand that after her findings it will be hard for him to appeal, but do you think he will have another Judge that takes bribes?

    You see, I am from the Carolinas and I know all too well how those games are played. For the state of Arizona, I hope this does not go that way.

  2. KellyCDenver says:

    I am SO GLAD to see this decision. Arpaio has been such a nightmare, for so long, it is excellent to see an authoritative smack finally land his way.

    Thanks bmaz!

  3. P J Evans says:

    Over at the Great Orange Satan, someone suggested that Arpaio and his deputies should be wearing pink and living in tents.

  4. Arbusto says:

    So Joe is going to jail? No? Joe has to pay a substantial fine(any fine) from his own wealth? No? Joe is being forced from office? No? Joe had to pay for his attorney? No? Joe was too upset to eat a five course dinner tonight? No? Will Joe change how he does business?

    How many trees were killed for naught writing this judgement? Can they be cycled into tp?

  5. bmaz says:

    @Arbusto: I can personally attest to you that the District of Arizona is completely electronic in its filing submission and order dissemination, so no trees whatsoever were harmed.

    But, more importantly, we relentlessly, and for good cause, talk about erosion of the rule of law and degradation of the Fourth Amendment here and, I would presume, we each do in other forums and discussions. That is a good thing to do; by the same token, when courageous and proper decisions are issued by a judge who has meticulously worked to do so, it should not be sneered at. This is a fantastic, and very important, piece of judicial work. It is of the kind we always clamor for.

  6. David Tarrell says:

    As you predicted, he will appeal:

    “Tim Casey, the lead attorney representing America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in the case, said an appeal of the finding that the agency racially profiles people was planned in the next 30 days.”


    Here are the 2nd and third best parts of the story:

    “The ruling used Arpaio’s own words in interviews, news conferences and press releases against him as he trumpeted his efforts in cracking down on immigrants. When it came to making traffic stops, Arpaio said in 2007 that deputies are not bound by state laws in finding a reason to stop immigrants”


    “Arpaio’s lawyers will have “an uphill climb” in the appeals process because of all “the gross statistical evidence,” said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.”

    But here is the very best part:

    “A hearing [was set] for June 14 where [the judge] will hear from the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are carried out… [but] in the meantime, Casey said the agency “will meet with the court and comply with the letter and spirit of the order.””

    That last line is a rare, savory treat, and reason to celebrate, this Memorial Day weekend.

  7. bmaz says:

    @David Tarrell: David!! Welcome to Emptywheel. I think you got rolled up in the moderation software because you were a first time commenter; that should not be an issue now that you are on the books, so to speak.

    Yeah, this is really a great decision, and Judge Snow has made crystal clear he means for it to stick. You just gotta love that. The worm is finally turning, just a little, here on Arpaio. About time.

  8. Arbusto says:

    @[email protected]:

    I’m in favor of at least one branch of our government occasionally working. What I’m tired of is how ineffectual so many ruling are when the likes of Arpaio disregard the Court and suffer no consequence. I guess I’m an old testament kind of guy wanting justice meted out, not just words. Well at least his attorneys did well financially on the case.

  9. David Tarrell says:

    Bmaz- I rarely miss a day of reading this amazing blog but haven’t said much since y’all are so smart/ informed that I rarely have anything to add. I was glad to see that America’s Toughest [and most costly, when you add up the lawsuits] Sheriff suffered a big defeat as all those Arpaio signs I saw last summer (and support I heard from my relatives in Gilbert) had me worried. BTW, did you see the dig at Phoenix in the Arrested Development trailer when Michael’s at Sky Harbor? (“Don’t touch the handle!”) Reminded me of our trip there last summer, or of Omaha in about a month.

  10. bmaz says:

    @Arbusto: Well, yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. But you take what you can get, and this is VERY nice; I’ll take it for now.

  11. bmaz says:

    @David Tarrell: No, didn’t see that yet. But if you come to the valley, do not do so again without telling me ahead of time. We shall sit, chat, and have a beer or two.

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