A federal district court judge ruled last week that a lawsuit between California and the United States over immigration laws cannot be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco, where legal experts said the state might have a better chance of winning.
The lawsuit involves the U.S. Department of Justice suing California over three state "sanctuary" laws. The federal government has argued these laws violate the U.S. Constitution by interfering with federal authority to set and enforce immigration laws.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had sought to have the case transferred to the federal court in San Francisco, where he has another lawsuit in progress that also involves state versus federal powers.
Becerra argued that the case be transferred “in the interests of justice” and expediency. But United States District Judge John A. Mendez ruled that “defendants have not shown the interests of justice overcome the United State’s forum choice.”
In his ruling, Mendez said the suit U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed March 6 in U.S. Eastern District of California in Sacramento is distinct from other cases.
Despite having its change-of-venue motion denied, the California Department of Justice said it remained committed to fighting for a state's right to legislate its own rules in areas not specifically bound by federal regulation.
"We have a strong case: Our state public safety laws work in concert, not conflict, with the federal government," a state DOJ spokesperson said. "No matter what court we argue in, we look forward to explaining that our state public safety laws do no harm to the federal government."
Last month, Sessions visited Sacramento and told the California Peace Officers Association that sanctuary laws endanger law enforcement officers and the public, and that California has overstepped its authority by interfering with federal authorities.
“California, we have a problem," Sessions said. "A series of actions and events has occurred that directly and adversely impact the work of our federal officers. Stop protecting lawbreakers and giving all officers more dangerous work to do so that a few politicians can score political points on the backs of officer safety.”
The U.S. government has argued that three California laws hinder federal authorities from enforcing its immigration policies.
SB 54 restricts how local law enforcement communicates with federal immigration authorities. AB 103 directs the California attorney general to inspect facilities where the federal government is detaining immigrants in the state. And AB 450 penalizes California employers who give Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to employee records or some areas of businesses without a warrant or subpoena.
Last week, a coalition of 18 Republican-led states — including Texas, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Ohio — filed an amicus brief supporting the Trump administration’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the California laws.
“Sanctuary laws and policies can cause harm to neighboring states by making it easier for people who are not lawfully in this country and have committed civil or criminal offenses to evade lawful enforcement and travel out of state,” the friend-of-the-court brief stated.