WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from the Trump administration seeking to challenge a California “sanctuary law.”
As is the court’s custom, its order declining to hear the case gave no reasons. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted the administration’s petition seeking review.
The California law prohibits state officials from telling federal ones when undocumented immigrants are to be released from state custody and restricts transfers of immigrants in state custody to federal immigration authorities.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that the federal government is not entitled to commandeer a state’s resources to further its immigration agenda.
Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., writing for the panel, acknowledged that the state law “may well frustrate the federal government’s immigration enforcement efforts.”
“However,” he wrote, “whatever the wisdom of the underlying policy adopted by California, that frustration is permissible, because California has the right.”
The Trump administration told the Ninth Circuit that Congress, in enacting immigration laws, expected that states would cooperate with the federal government. “That is likely the case,” Judge Smith acknowledged. “But when questions of federalism are involved, we must distinguish between expectations and requirements. In this context, the federal government was free to expect as much as it wanted, but it could not require California’s cooperation.”
In a petition seeking the Supreme Court review of the case, United States v. California, No. 19-532, lawyers for the Trump administration wrote that the state law conflicted with federal ones and posed a risk to public safety.
“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 response, lawyers for California said the federal government was not entitled to take over the state’s resources. “The federal government may not require the state and its political subdivisions to provide information or transfer individuals to federal immigration authorities, because doing so would conscript state and local officials into enforcing federal removal policies and would deny them the choice to decline to implement a federal regulatory program,” the state’s brief said.
The threat to public safety, the state’s lawyers said, would arise from cooperation with federal agents. The state law, they said, was adopted “to address concerns that undue entanglement with immigration enforcement can deter victims and witnesses from reporting state crimes and divert limited resources from other activities that the legislature has determined will better protect local public safety.”