IRLI represented the City of Farmers Branch in a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of illegal aliens, corporations, and others that challenged Ordinance No. 2892 which required the city to verify the immigration status of all non-citizens issued rental licenses and terminate rental agreements with non-citizens who the federal government confirms are not lawfully present the United States. The district court ruled against the city, finding the ordinance preempted by federal law.
The city appealed to the United State Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. A panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed (over a vigorous dissent), see 675 F.3d 802 (5th Cir. 2012), but the Fifth Circuit granted rehearing en banc. The en banc court produced six different opinions, collectively affirming the judgment by a vote of nine to six. Villas at Parkside Partners v. City of Farmers Branch, 726 F.3d 524 (5th Cir. 2013) (en banc).
The city petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. The city described multiple conflicts in the Fifth Circuit ruling on the question of whether and how local immigration actions conflict with federal law. The city’s petition stated that the ruling conflicts both with decisions of other federal appeal courts, and with previous decisions concerning state and local immigration enforcement in the Fifth Circuit itself. The Farmers Branch ordinance is one of three similar ordinances that attempts to deal with illegal immigration in a city by discouraging landlords from knowingly renting to illegal aliens. The other ordinances were enacted by Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Fremont, Nebraska. The Fremont ordinance had been upheld by an U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, while the Hazleton ordinance was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on the ground that it conflicted with federal supremacy in the field of immigration law–similar to the reasons of the Fifth Circuit. With three different rulings on the legality of three similar local laws, a judicial conflict had been created, which historically is a reason for the United States Supreme Court to hear a case.
IRLI filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to review the case, while IRLI’s Of Counsel Kris Kobach filed a petition for the High Court to review the case on behalf of the city. The IRLI brief addressed the Fifth Circuit’s incorrect use of preemption doctrine which would effectively preempt all state and local laws if the decision were allowed to stand. IRLI noted that Congress has encouraged states to assist in immigration enforcement and communicate with the federal government regarding immigration status. The IRLI brief also addresses the wide circuit split regarding the meaning of “harboring” an illegal alien in federal law.
IRLI Files Brief in Farmers Branch Supreme Court case, November 23, 2013
Kris Kobach Defends Farmers Branch in Fifth Circuit Oral Argument, October 6, 2011
Judge’s Ruling on Farmers Branch Ordinance Clears the Way for New Ordinance to be Enforced, May 29, 2008