Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to Review California’s Sanctuary Law

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
October 29, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

The Trump administration has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to quash provisions of a California “sanctuary” law that limits the cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration agents.

The lawsuit, which began in 2018, arrived at the high court after lower courts refused to enjoin several provisions of the California Values Act, or Senate Bill 54 (SB 54).

The administration had asked the courts to strike down SB 54 provisions (pdf) that prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from sharing information about an illegal immigrant’s release from custody, personal information, and physical description to immigration agents. Moreover, the law also bars state and local officers from transferring these individuals to immigration agents unless in exempted circumstances like under a court warrant.

The U.S. government argues that SB 54 “concededly ‘frustrate[s]’ and ‘obstructs’ federal immigration enforcement,” as it eliminates the chance for immigration agents from taking illegal immigrants into custody prior to release.

In its argument, the U.S. government says that the SB 54 provisions encroach on the federal government’s right to set conditions under which illegal immigrants in the United States may be detained, release, and removed, adding that the federal government has absolute and exclusive “power over immigration, naturalization, and deportation.”

“The ‘supremacy of the national power’ in this area ‘is made clear by the Constitution, was pointed out by the authors of The Federalist in 1787, and has been given continuous recognition by this Court,'” the petition stated.

Moreover, the U.S. government also argued that not striking down the SB 54 provisions has “significant real-world consequences.” The court of appeal had acknowledged that SB 54 requires federal officers to stake out a jail in order to try to make a public arrest, which presents risks to the arresting officer and general public.

“When officers are unable to arrest aliens—often criminal aliens—who are in removal proceedings or have been ordered removed from the United States, those aliens instead return to the community, where criminal aliens are disproportionately likely to commit crimes,” the petition said.

“That result undermines public safety, immigration enforcement, and the rule of law. In light of the Ninth Circuit’s erroneous and damaging holding, this Court should again grant certiorari to resolve important questions concerning the interaction of state and federal power with respect to the law of immigration and alien status,” it argued.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the SB 54 provisions in their decision in April (pdf). The three-judge panel rejected the government’s arguments for striking down the provisions, ruling that the 10th amendment anti-commandeering doctrine applies. The doctrine prescribes that the federal government from forcing states or local governments to enforce federal policies.

Along with SB 54, the lawsuit had also asked the court to grant a preliminary injunction for two other California laws. One law required employers to alert employees before federal immigration inspections, while the other imposes inspection requirements on facilities that hold civil immigration detainees. The lower courts held that those provisions were likely invalid, according to the petition.

California has until Nov. 22 to respond to the petition.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data through May 2019, most of the ICE detainers were sent to northern California. The average monthly ICE detainers prepared for California law enforcement agencies jumped 42 percent compared to 2014 levels. On average, 3,246 ICE detainers were sent to California law enforcement agents in the 2019 fiscal year.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.