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Supreme Court to End Sanctuary Policies?


IRLI urges High Court to take case to overturn California’s sanctuary law

WASHINGTON—The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) took its battle against California’s dangerous and unconstitutional sanctuary state law to a higher level last Friday by filing two friend-of-the-court briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the federal government’s petition for review of its case against that law.

In 2017, California enacted Senate Bill 54 (“SB 54”), which restricts the ability of local law enforcement officers to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Under this law, officers in California may not even tell immigration authorities when criminal aliens in state prison will be released from state custody, or transfer custody of these aliens to federal immigration agents. These prohibitions have the intended effect of making it much more difficult for federal agents to apprehend, detain, and deport criminal aliens as they are required to do under federal law.

In a deeply-flawed opinion, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this law, claiming first that it did not really operate as an obstacle to federal immigration law enforcement, and second that, even if it did, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution reserves the power to make such laws to the states.

In its first brief, filed on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association, IRLI shows that SB 54 is an obstacle to federal immigration law enforcement because it is an action by the state that – as even the Ninth Circuit panel admitted in its opinion – makes that enforcement more difficult. State laws that are obstacles to the purposes of federal laws violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which makes federal law supreme over state law.

IRLI then shows that the Ninth Circuit misunderstood the Tenth Amendment, which only reserves the power to make a given law to the states if that power is not prohibited to the states by the Constitution. The power to make sanctuary laws such as SB 54 is prohibited to the states, because such laws violate the Supremacy Clause. Thus, the power to make sanctuary laws is not reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.

In its second brief, filed on behalf of a coalition of California municipalities and elected officials, IRLI makes the additional argument that SB 54 requires state officers to commit the federal crime of harboring illegal aliens by concealing their whereabouts from federal agents. By thus making it impossible for state officers to obey both state and federal law, SB 54 conflicts with the anti-harboring statute and violates the Supremacy Clause.

“The Constitution does not give states power to interfere with federal law enforcement,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “By holding otherwise, the Ninth Circuit endorsed not states’ rights, but chaos. About half of the nation’s population now lives in one form of sanctuary jurisdiction or another,” Wilcox added. “That extraordinary situation is not only a grave threat to Americans’ safety, but a shocking affront to federal supremacy. We hope the Supreme Court sees the need to end these vast non-enforcement zones by vindicating the clear text and structure of our Constitution.”

The case is U.S. v. California, No. 19-532 (U.S. Supreme Court).

For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org


IRLI is a supporting organization of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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