By Matthew Renda
SAN FRANCISCO – The Trump administration suffered a legal defeat at the Ninth Circuit on Thursday as a panel denied its attempt to prevent California from implementing sanctuary laws meant to protect residents from federal immigration enforcement officials.
The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that a federal judge ruled correctly in denying the federal government preliminary injunctions that would have prevented three sanctuary laws from going into effect while their legality was being determined in federal court.
“The district court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that AB 450’s employee-notice provisions neither burden the federal government nor conflict with federal activities, and that any obstruction caused by SB 54 is consistent with California’s prerogatives under the 10th Amendment and the anticommandeering rule,” U.S. Circuit Judge Milan Smith wrote for the panel. “We also affirm the denial of a preliminary injunction as to those provisions of AB 103 that duplicate inspection requirements otherwise mandated under California law.”
However, the panel found one provision of AB 103, which mandates the state attorney general to periodically inspect immigrant-detention centers to ensure conditions and standards of care are sufficient and due process standards are being followed, unfairly and impermissibly burdens the federal government – violating the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.
The panel stopped short of siding with the federal government and instead asked the judge in the case to reconsider the extent of the government’s “economic or operational burden” for the extra inspections AB 103 calls for.
Regarding SB 54, which the panel recognized as “the most contentious of the three challenged laws” since it restricts state and local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration agents except where certain violent crimes and felonies are involved, the panel ruled it passes constitutional muster.
The Trump administration had argued the law represented an unlawful obstruction of federal enforcement of immigration laws. California said the federal government had confused non-cooperation with obstruction and that requiring it to participate in federal immigration enforcement actions violates the 10th Amendment.
Smith and his colleagues ruled that even if California was found to be obstructing immigration enforcement, it can’t be compelled to participate in such actions.
“Even if SB 54 obstructs federal immigration enforcement, the United States’ position that such obstruction is unlawful runs directly afoul of the 10th Amendment and the anticommandeering rule,” Smith, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.
The 10th Amendment defines the concept of federalism and limits the power of the federal government over the states.
Regarding AB 450, which requires private employers in California to notify workers when federal agents ask to inspect their employment records, the panel used a similar rationale.
“The district court correctly concluded that AB 450’s employee-notice provisions do not violate the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity,” Smith wrote.
Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants which helped California lawmakers draft the law, applauded the ruling.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision upholds the heart of AB 103, which gives the state attorney general the power and resources to monitor ICE detention. This is a significant victory for transparency and accountability,” Fialho said in a statement.
“California is proving to the rest of the country that independent oversight in ICE detention is not only possible, but it is our responsibility,” Fialho continued. “States must continue fighting the Trump administration’s cruel and unlawful anti-immigrant agenda and protecting immigrant communities.”
An email sent to the Justice Department seeking comment was not returned by press time.
U.S. Circuit Judges Paul Watford and Andrew Hurwitz, both Barack Obama appointees, rounded out the panel.