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E-Verify Fails in City Council’s Legal Battle

For those of you following the E-Verify saga that was Springfield, Missouri, you may be relieved to know that legal saga is (somewhat) over. (Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered if it’s slipped your radar.)

City of Springfiled MO ImageJuly of 2011, voters submitted an initiative that would ultimately require all employers in the City of Springfield to enroll in the E-Verify program and check the work authorization of prospective employees. (We covered this development on our E-Verify State Legislation Map here.) The initiative contained a series of conditions and enforcement provisions for employers who failed to comply. In February of this year, voters approved the initiative, which the City Council adopted. The law would have gone into effect very shortly thereafter.

In early May, multiple businesses in the city filed a lawsuit against the city on grounds that the E-Verify initiative was unconstitutional. A temporary injunction was sought by the plaintiffs and later granted by a U.S. District Court Judge. [This event occurred prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona v. United States, decided later in June.] What ensued in the following months appeared to be little legal wrangling on either side. According to local news reports, Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer said, “There were many areas where the legal analysis between the City and plaintiffs reached the same conclusion as to the enforceable provisions.” Once the U.S. Supreme Court decision was decided and numerous provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 were knocked down, the City leaders reexamined their legal strategies to evaluate their chances of prevailing, which appeared very dim.

Why then, did the City go to such lengths to defend itself? According to City Charter rules, the City was (and is) required to defend itself in any litigation. In the interest of avoiding rising legal and court fees, City Leaders ultimately settled the lawsuit last Thursday, releasing this statement. As part of the settlement agreement, the City will return to the drawing board and “clean-up” the remainder of the E-Verify bill to ensure it conforms to the judgment.  The E-Verify bill provisions mandating employers in the city enroll are now void.

However well-intentioned the E-Verify initiative may have been, it apparently didn’t pass legal muster, at least in the eyes of the City’s legal team. Along the way, the initiative ended up costing Springfield taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars ($45,350 to be exact).

Would the City be able to recoup any of its legal costs? It seems unlikely despite conjecture otherwise. This saga highlights just how important legal review of any city laws are, particularly where laws are contentious.

So, what do you think? Did the City act reasonably by settling the case early, in order to defray future legal costs had the case gone to trial? Should the group who introduced the initiative have any culpability in drafting the law? Should the City’s Legal Team have taken a greater role in amending the initiative, if that were legally possible? Stay up to date on E-Verify laws by subscribing to the LawLogix I-9 and E-Verify Blog.


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