California Judge: City Can Ignore Sanctuary-State Law
By David Jaroslav | October 4, 2018
The City of Huntington Beach, California has won a sweeping victory in court over the state’s 2017 sanctuary law, Senate Bill (SB) 54. Huntington Beach sued the state back in April as part of a growing wave of local governments and officials resisting enforcement of the sanctuary law. And on September 27, Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall ruled that because Huntington Beach is a charter city, forcing it to follow SB 54 would violate the state constitution. Thus, the city is free to set its own policy.
Article XI, Section 5(a) of the California Constitution provides relevant context: “City charters adopted pursuant to this Constitution shall supersede any existing charter, and with respect to municipal affairs shall supersede all laws inconsistent therewith.” [emphasis added] If that weren’t already clear enough, Section 5(b) of that Article adds that “[i]t shall be competent in all city charters to provide, in addition to those provisions allowable by this Constitution, and by the laws of the State for: (1) the constitution, regulation, and government of the city police force[.]”
Judge Crandall summed up those provisions together as firmly protecting charter cities in general, and their control of their police specifically, from “the ever-extending tentacles of state government,” adding that the state constitution makes clear “the operation of a police department and its jail is a city affair. For the state to say one size fits all for policing isn’t going to fit everybody.”
According to the League of California Cities, as of July 1, 2011, there were 482 cities in California, of which 121 were charter cities. As noted by Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates, under this ruling, every one of those charter cities appears able to ignore SB 54 and pursue reasonable policies of cooperating with and assisting in federal immigration enforcement. And obviously, the ruling also provides a huge incentive for “general law” (non-charter) cities to become charter cities, which requires a majority vote in a local referendum.
Despite this, staff attorney Sameer Ahmed of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California tried to minimize the ruling’s significance and “said he believes the ruling applies solely to Huntington Beach.”
By contrast, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R), whose district includes Huntington Beach, praised the ruling and congratulated the city for its victory, saying, “[t]his court case was a huge setback for supporters of sanctuary policies … This law [SB 54] was forced down the throats of Californians and dramatically undermined their safety and security. If cities and counties want to cooperate with ICE or other federal law enforcement, they have a right to do so, and I support the judge’s decision.”
In a press release issued after the ruling, the Huntington Beach Police Department stated that they have and “will continue, to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on matters concerning public safety within the parameters of the law...This also helps us maintain local control over our own police department and the interests of our community instead of having to rely on the State Legislature making those decisions for Huntington Beach.”
The Associated Press reports that “[t]he state is expected to appeal.” However, when asked about that possibility, “Jennifer Molina, press secretary for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment[.]”
They most likely will have 60 days to appeal from the date of a written order, which Judge Crandall has not yet issued.