Politics & Government

California seeks to move Trump sanctuary lawsuit from capital to San Francisco

Protesters and supporters of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions take to Sacramento streets

A loud crowd on both sides of the debate on immigration and sanctuary cities rallied on the streets of Sacramento on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018.
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A loud crowd on both sides of the debate on immigration and sanctuary cities rallied on the streets of Sacramento on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra is asking that a federal lawsuit between the state and the United States over immigration laws be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco, where legal experts said California may have a better chance at prevailing.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice sued California over three state "sanctuary" laws it argues violate the U.S. Constitution by interfering with federal authority to set and enforce immigration laws.

On Wednesday, Becerra filed a motion asking federal district court judge John Mendez to move that case to San Francisco, where last year the state sued the federal government over a similar issue of state versus federal powers.

That suit, filed last August, seeks to prevent the federal government from adding requirements into law enforcement grant funding mandating cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Both cases will involve the boundaries of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives states the power to legislate their own rules in areas not specifically bound by federal regulation.

"This is about doing what every smart lawyer does, trying to find the most favorable judge, and it's not inappropriate," said Loyola law professor Jessica Levinson of the push to change venues. "There is absolutely a straight-faced argument to make that the two cases are related and there will be similar facts and arguments that may come up."

The U.S. Department of Justice opposes the move. In a response filed with the court before the state even made its official request, federal lawyers said it was "remarkable that the State of California would seek to delay this matter primarily so that it can avoid litigating in its state capital."

The federal government argued that the two cases don't share enough similar issues and should remain separate.

The San Francisco case has progressed farther than the Sacramento case. The day before the Sacramento suit was filed, that judge, William Orrick, ruled against a motion by the federal government to dismiss the lawsuit.

Orrick also denied a motion for a preliminary injunction that California wanted.

In that decision, Orrick said the San Francisco case "may help define the contours of the State's broad constitutional police powers under the Tenth Amendment."

Some legal experts said that clear language on similar issues may help convince Mendez, the judge in the Sacramento case, that there are enough common issues to warrant a move. Cases are often moved for efficiency and to ensure rulings don't conflict, said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law.

"There are a lot of federalism issues raised in both cases," said Johnson. "If it's before the same judge, he's likely to decide the cases (in ways) that are internally consistent, and so far the state of California likes those rulings."

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