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Ninth Circuit denies Trump attempt to block California sanctuary law

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another blow to President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda on Thursday, rejecting the administration’s bid to block two California “sanctuary” laws that limit local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

The San Francisco-based appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that denied the administration’s request for an injunction, which would have the effect of immediately blocking Senate Bill 54, also called the California Values Act, which restricts how and when state law enforcement can interact with federal immigration authorities. The statute quickly became a flashpoint between the Trump administration and state lawmakers.

The three-judge panel also upheld the lower court decision denying an injunction against Assembly Bill 450, which created rules for how employers must handle federal immigration audit requests, commonly called I-9 audits. Both bills were passed in 2017.

The U.S. government’s lawsuit attempting to overturn those laws will continue to proceed in district court, the California Department of Justice confirmed on Thursday. The Ninth Circuit, however, concluded Thursday that the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its challenges to AB 450 and SB 54.

The court did, however, raise questions about one section of a third immigration law that California adopted in 2017, which granted state officials the authority to inspect federal immigrant detention facilities in the state. It ordered the lower court to revisit its decision on that particular provision.

A coalition of advocacy groups that oppose White House attempts to tighten immigration enforcement said the ruling is a sign the administration’s lawsuit is doomed. “The legal question at the heart of this lawsuit is well-settled across the ideological spectrum: the federal government cannot force local governments to do its dirty work,” the ICE Out of California coalition said in a statement.

The Department of Justice filed the original lawsuit against the three state laws in March 2018, while then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was visiting Sacramento. In the suit, administration lawyers charged that California’s laws violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and interfered with the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

“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,” Sessions warned state officials at a speech to the California Peace Officers Association.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra insisted at the time that the state was “following the Constitution and the federal law.” The Ninth Circuit Court ruling largely validated his assertion.

“The Ninth Circuit ruled in our favor today, demonstrating that the rights of states and the 10th Amendment continue to thrive,” Becerra said in a brief statement on Thursday. The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling by press time.

The president and his supporters, however, are likely to see the decision as yet more evidence that “the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster,” as Trump tweeted last November.

Trump has repeatedly complained he cannot get a fair hearing before the federal court, which handles cases in California and eight other states. Judges on the Ninth Circuit, the nation’s largest and busiest federal appeals court, overturned his original travel ban against people from several Muslim-majority countries and blocked his efforts to end DACA, the Obama-era immigration program that granted legal status to certain categories of young undocumented immigrants.

Trump has, however, notched a few victories in the Ninth Circuit. Just last week, the court temporarily reversed a lower court ruling that had blocked the administration’s plan to send asylum seekers at the Southern border back to Mexico.

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Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.