Ninth Circuit Upholds Most Parts of California’s “Sanctuary” Law

In an April 18 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that nearly all of California’s “sanctuary state” law can remain in effect, dealing a blow to the Trump Department of Justice, which has challenged the law.

The Department of Justice challenged three of California’s “sanctuary state” laws. In July of 2018, a California District Court granted part of the administration’s motion for preliminary injunction, enjoining enforcement of provisions that bar employers from voluntary cooperation with immigration agents seeking employee records or entry to a workplace, and that prohibit employers from reverifying employment eligibility for employees.

However, the same District Court ruling, by Judge John A. Mendez, denied the Justice Department’s motion for preliminary injunction in regard to several other provisions of the California law.  Specifically, the administration had challenged:

  • a provision requiring employers to alert employees before federal immigration inspections (AB 450);
  • a provision requiring the California Attorney General to conduct reviews of facilities that house civil immigration detainees and imposing inspection requirements (AB 103); and
  • a provision limiting cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities (SB 54).

The Department of Justice had argued that these laws violate the doctrines of intergovernmental immunity and conflict preemption.

In its April ruling on the Justice Department appeal, the Ninth Circuit’s three judge panel held that most parts of California’s “sanctuary state” law can remain in effect, stating that the administration is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its challenges to the provisions on alerting employees about inspections and limiting local-federal cooperation. Specifically, the panel 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 Tenth Amendment and the anticommandeering rule. (Opinion, 10)

With respect to AB 103, the panel affirmed the district court’s partial denial of a preliminary injunction. However, the panel also reversed the district court’s decision as to one subsection that requires inspectors to examine the circumstances surrounding apprehension and transfer of immigration detainees. The panel concluded that this subsection (California Government Code section 12532(b)(1)(C)) “discriminates against and impermissibly burdens the federal government, and so is unlawful under the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.” (Opinion, 3-4)

The Ninth Circuit has remanded the case to the District Court and encouraged the District Court to reexamine the equitable factors (i.e. irreparable harm, the balance of the equities, and the public interest) only as applied to subsection above, in order to determine whether or not to issue a preliminary injunction.