U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to California’s “Sanctuary State” Law Leaving the Law Intact
On Monday, June 15, 2020, the U. S. Supreme Court declined to grant review of the Trump Administration’s challenge to California’s so-called “Sanctuary State” law (“SB 54”). By not granting review of United States v. California, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court left intact SB 54, a 2017 California law which, in part, restricts state and local law enforcement agencies (including school police and security departments) from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes, subject to certain exceptions.
In support of its petition for a writ of certiorari/review, the federal government challenged provisions of California’s SB 54 under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, arguing that the challenged provisions of the state statute were federally preempted because they both obstructed and frustrated the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. As one of several federal preemption arguments it advanced, the federal government underscored its position that SB 54 conflicted with 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a federal statute that provides that “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [the U.S. Department of Homeland Security] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” The federal government further argued that SB 54 “openly seeks to undermine federal immigration enforcement,” which is exclusively a federal power.
The State of California argued in its opposition papers to the certioriari petition that “[n]othing in federal law precludes states from defining the circumstances under which state and local officials may use state resources to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law.” California further argued that, consistent with principles of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states cannot be required or otherwise commandeered to enforce federal immigration laws. California also highlighted policy arguments that encouraging local police to participate in federal immigration enforcement is counterproductive to advancing the safety and security of communities because such cooperation will make community members less likely to report crimes if they believe that doing so would lead to their removal or deportation from this country.
Two lower federal courts had previously agreed with California’s legal arguments with regard to SB 54 before the Trump Administration sought final review from the U.S. Supreme Court. In denying the federal government’s motion for preliminary injunction, the district court concluded that the federal government was not likely to succeed on the merits under the Supremacy Clause. In reaching its decision, the district court opined that SB 54 does not violate Section 1373 because when a state refuses to help immigration authorities, “standing aside does not equate to standing in the way” and “refusing to help is not the same as impeding.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court “did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that . . . any obstruction caused by SB 54 is consistent with California’s prerogatives under the Tenth Amendment and the anticommandeering rule,” and, as such, affirmed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction.
The U.S. Supreme Court does not issue an opinion explaining its rationale for declining to review a particular case. Nevertheless, by declining to review United States v. California, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court has left SB 54 intact.