Federal Court Hands Mixed (But Mostly Bad) Results to Opponents of California’s Sanctuary Laws
By David Jaroslav | July 11, 2018
On July 5, a federal court in Sacramento issued a disappointing ruling allowing two out of three California sanctuary state laws challenged by the Trump Administration to remain in effect. On the bright side, the court blocked the third law.
The Department of Justice had filed suit against California (as well as California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra) on March 7, arguing that three California laws passed in 2017 violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Senate Bill (SB) 54, the state’s primary sanctuary law, which prohibits most cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities; Assembly Bill (AB) 103, which allows state officials to review and inspect local and private immigration detention facilities; and AB 450, which prohibits private employers from consenting to warrantless searches by federal immigration authorities. In the months since, the federal lawsuit has also been joined by numerous local governments and elected officials across California filing amicus briefs opposing the state laws.
United States District Judge John Mendez’s order, filed on July 5, allowed SB 54 and AB 103 to stand while blocking only AB 450. The order is best summed up by his remarks that “refusing to help is not the same as impeding” and “[s]tanding aside does not equate to standing in the way,” both of which could fairly be described as distinctions without a difference. Indeed, the judge himself recognized that “[t]he laws make enforcement more burdensome than it would be if state and local law enforcement provided immigration officers with their assistance,” yet to him the fact that state laws deliberately make federal enforcement harder didn’t seem to matter.
Nonetheless, even Judge Mendez found AB 450’s penalties on private employers for consenting to searches “troubling” and ultimately held that it amounted to active interference with federal immigration enforcement, not merely “stepping aside.” The law, he said, “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the Federal Government” and therefore could not be allowed to stand.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley disagreed with the court’s holding that SB 54 and AB 103 were merely passive non-cooperation rather than active interference, since “California’s political leadership clearly intended to obstruct federal immigration authorities in their state,” though he described AB 450 being struck down as a “major victory for private employers in California who are no longer prevented from cooperating with legitimate enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws." He added that “[w]hile we are disappointed that California’s other laws designed to protect criminal aliens were not yet halted, the Justice Department will continue to seek out and fight unjust policies that threaten public safety.”
Read the Court’s ruling here.