California Beats Trump's Legal Attack on Sanctuary Laws

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Sacramento dismissed most of a lawsuit by the Trump administration attacking California’s trio of sanctuary laws aimed at protecting the state’s undocumented and immigrant community.

U.S. District Judge John Mendez agreed with most of the state’s request to throw out the government’s complaint, in which the Justice Department claimed California is circumventing federal authority by imposing its own rules for cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Specifically, the state will continue to prohibit local police from complying with most of ICE’s directives, the centerpiece of its sanctuary policy, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will continue to inspect privately owned federal detention centers.

Last week, Mendez sided with the Justice Department regarding one of the state statutes, ruling that private employers must comply with federal orders seeking information about immigrant employees. The government will continue to litigate its case against that law, which California may not enforce until the lawsuit is resolved.

The dismissal marks yet another legal victory for California, which continues to find ways to defy the president on issues ranging from immigration to health care, the environment and internet privacy. The lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March and appeared to be the government’s best chance yet to check California’s ideological insurgency, since federal law typically outranks states’ authority.

State Sovereignty

Mendez wasn’t convinced that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause was applicable in the face of the state’s own rights to adjudicate laws.

“This whole case is about the state saying, ‘You can’t mandate cooperation. We’re done with you,”’ Mendez said in a day-long hearing between California and the Justice Department on June 20. “This is all about anti-commandeering,” he said, referring to a Supreme Court opinion which bars the U.S. from usurping state authority within its borders.

The decision is yet another blow to an administration still searching for legal footing to impose immigration changes without congressional approval. While California continues to moderate federal immigration enforcement, individual plaintiffs around the country have notched victories against the administration over its family-separation policy and attempts to end the Dreamer program, which protects children of undocumented immigrants.

The U.S. can appeal Monday’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The judge prohibited the U.S. from amending its filings to the lower court.

“Today’s decision is a victory for our state’s ability to safeguard the privacy, safety and constitutional rights of all of our people,” Becerra said in a statement. “Though the Trump administration may continue to attack a state like California and its ability to make its own laws, we will continue to protect our constitutional authority to protect our residents and the rule of law.”

Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

The case is U.S. v. State of California, 2:18-cv-00490, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).

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