Supreme Court Rejects Trump Challenge of California Sanctuary Laws

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer looks on during a 2019 operation in Escondido, Calif. U.S. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(CN) — California’s sanctuary city law will survive after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case on, the court announced Monday morning.

The Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s petition challenging Senate Bill 54, which prevents state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officials.

“We’re protecting Californians’ right to decide how we do public safety in our state,” California Attorney General Xavier Beccera said in a statement. “The Trump administration does not have the authority to commandeer state resources. We’re heartened by today’s Supreme Court decision.”

The fight over SB 54 entailed legal interpretations of the 10th Amendment, which regulates states’ rights versus the rights of the federal government.

The sanctuary city law was passed in 2017 and faced an immediate legal challenge from the Trump administration. A federal judge ruled against the federal government’s attempt to secure a legal injunction and a Ninth Circuit panel upheld that ruling last year.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the federal government’s petition means that the Ninth Circuit ruling is law. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas would have taken up review of California’s sanctuary laws, but conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts joined their liberal colleagues in denying review.

Monday’s decision represents a significant legal victory for California, which has fought Trump across a wide range of issues, including immigration.

The Trump administration had argued that California’s sanctuary city laws promote lawlessness as it relates to the enforcement of federal immigration policy.

During the State of the Union address in January, Trump labeled sanctuary cities an “outrageous law” and threatened to withhold federal funding from cities and states that enact sanctuary laws.

Trump and others in his administration repeatedly argued in and out of court that California’s laws made federal agents jobs more difficult and dangerous and that the laws represented a state policy of hindering the federal government’s attempt to carry out its duty.

But U.S. District Judge John Mendez, who made the initial ruling in the case, said California’s policy doesn’t hinder federal agents as much as it withholds assistance.

“Refusing to help is not the same as impeding,” Mendez wrote. “If such were the rule, obstacle preemption could be used to commandeer state resources and subvert Tenth Amendment principles.”

Proponents of sanctuary cities say such laws enhance public safety by allowing members of the immigrant community, which is sizable in California, to communicate with law enforcement without fear of deportation.

SB 54 forbids law enforcement officers from sharing the immigration status of people arrested for low-level offenses and nonviolent crimes. The law was a reaction against the practice of some law enforcement agencies in California of contacting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to alert them when low-level offenders were being released from jail.

Democrats in the Golden State said such policies foster a sense of mistrust between police and the immigrant community, which will be less likely to contact law enforcement if they are witness to a crime of a victim.

Both Becerra and Pelosi put the state’s court victory in the context of the current unrest in America over police policies, use of force and racial disparity.

“In California, we’ve seen the success that comes from building trust between law enforcement and our hard-working immigrant communities,” Becerra said. “The last thing we need to do is to erode that trust. Today, America is experiencing the pain and protest that occurs when trust is broken.”

The Supreme Court took a dim view of the Trump administration’s view of federal preemption of state laws, backing what other courts have decided on the sanctuary city issue to date.

A separate court ruling held that the Trump administration could not withhold funding from California and other states due to the existence of sanctuary laws in their jurisdiction.

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