In its latest salvo against California, the Trump administration filed suit Monday seeking to block a state law that requires the U.S. government to get the state's permission before it can sell any federal property, including Postal Service land in the Pocket area.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento, seeks to block Senate Bill 50, which was signed in October and requires the federal government to give the right of first refusal to the State Lands Commission before selling or transferring any property.
The suit says the state law has the potential to interfere with a number of planned transactions, including the auction of an undeveloped 1.7-acre parcel on Corporate Way, a business park area south of Florin Road and west of Interstate 5, the suit says.
The Postal Service property was to be offered up for auction in January, but no bids were received and the auction was scrapped after the State Lands Commission sent a letter to federal authorities saying the state had first rights to the property under the new state law.
The lawsuit says SB 50 is unconstitutional, violating the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause and the property clause that gives the federal government the right to dispose of its own property.
The new law also violates the terms under which the state of California was admitted to the union, the lawsuit says, and federal officials note that lawmakers were warned in a legislative analysis before passing the measure that it would violate the federal property clause.
"For 200 years, the case law interpreting that clause has described this power as 'absolute' and 'without limitation,'" the analysis noted, adding, "Ultimately, this issue will be for the courts to decide."
McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California, said that since the nation was founded "it has been fundamental to our constitutional system that a state may not discriminate against the United States" and vowed to "vigorously defend this principle."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a statement released after the suit was filed, called the state's measure "an illegal state law in order to advance an extreme policy agenda."
"The Constitution empowers the federal government - not state legislatures - to decide when and how federal lands are sold," Sessions said.
California and the Trump administration have been engaged in a series of legal fights over federal policies, and last month Sessions came to Sacramento to announce the filing of a suit seeking to kill three state laws designed to protect undocumented immigrants from federal authorities.
The latest filing sparked immediate push back from state officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a member of the lands commission.
"Yet again, Donald Trump and his administration are attacking our state and our very way of life," Newsom said. "Safeguarding public lands is in our DNA as Californians — so much so that we have enshrined the principle in our state constitution.
"We will use every legal and administrative tool to thwart Trump’s plans to auction off California’s heritage to the highest bidder."
Federal authorities complain that the law has the potential to disrupt a number of planned land transfers, including one that would provide housing and other services to veterans at a 388-acre Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles.
Veterans Affairs officials had planned to lease out some property as part of the project and offer an easement to Los Angeles officials to provide room for a planned Metro rail project.
Other projects that could be disrupted include an Army project in Dublin in which 78 acres were to be exchanged to allow for new construction at Camp Parks, and a years-long effort by the Navy to sell off its Admiral's Cove property in Alameda to a developer.