Capitol Alert

Trump scores victory over California in latest court battle over land

The Trump administration scored a court victory over California officials Friday when a judge in Sacramento tossed out a law giving the state the right to thwart sales of federal lands to private interests.

U.S. District Judge William Shubb threw out SB 50, a year-old state law that gave the State Lands Commission first right of refusal of the sale of federal lands in California.

State officials, who’ve been battling the Trump administration over immigration, environmental issues and more, had seen the law as a way to protect California land against the machinations of the White House.

“We will use every legal and administrative tool to thwart Trump’s plans to auction off California’s heritage to the highest bidder,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic candidate for governor and a member of the Lands Commission, when the Trump administration filed its lawsuit last spring to halt enforcement of the law.

The judge’s ruling said SB 50 is unconstitutional because it “trespasses on the federal government’s ability to convey land to whomever it wants.”

The Trump administration was quick to celebrate the court victory against California. “The court’s ruling is a firm rejection of California’s assertion that, by legislation, it could dictate how and when the federal government sells federal land,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a prepared statement. “This (law) was a stunning assertion of constitutional power by California, and it was properly and promptly dismissed by the district judge.”

The federal government was preparing to auction off several pieces of land around the state, including an undeveloped 1.7-acre parcel on Corporate Way in Sacramento. The government was also about to auction off a Postal Service property in the Pocket area, but the auction was scrapped when the state announced that it had first rights to the land under the new law.

SB 50 was signed into law in October of 2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor’s press office referred calls to the Lands Commission, which said it is analyzing the ruling but had no further comment.

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