The Supreme Court refused to hear the Trump administration's challenge against a California "protected area" law on Monday, leaving open rules that prohibit law enforcement officers from helping federal agents imprison immigrants when they are out of prison be dismissed.
Only Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. approved the government's appeal.
The court's lawsuit is a huge victory for California in its longstanding struggle against President Trump.
It was about a conflict between federal power and the rights of the states.
The Trump administration's challenge was launched by the former Atty. Gene. Jeff Sessions. He insisted that California unconstitutionally interfere with federal immigration enforcement. However, the Supreme Court ruled in a decision by the late judge Antonin Scalia that state and local officials are not required to carry out federal enforcement. The legal doctrine of these states seems to have prevailed. Even the two Trump-appointed judges – Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh – refused to hear the government's appeal.
California Atty. General Xavier Becerra said he was pleased with the decision and believed that it was a "big step forward". He said the court's reasoning follows "the precedent and interpretation of the constitution as it has been for 200 years."
Despite the victory, Becerra said he was concerned that the high-profile case and the federal government's position had damaged confidence in immigrant communities.
"Even if the Trump administration loses its anti-immigration agenda in many ways, it can still win because the message resonates," Becerra said. “Go to a community where there are many immigrant families and check if they believe that someone wearing a uniform is there to protect them and not to deport them. … Right now, in this time of real pain, it is crucial to have trust in the people who are supposed to protect you. "
Separately on Monday, the court also refused to hear several cases related to gun rights and police immunity. For the time being, the judges do not appear to be ready to rethink previous decisions that gave states sufficient powers to regulate weapons and protect the police from lawsuits.
Gun rights advocates were confident that the judges would be willing to give them the opportunity to carry arms in public. So far, the majority of the court has given government and local officials considerable latitude in deciding who can get permission to carry a hidden weapon.
Gun owners in California have to prove that they have "good reason" to carry a gun, and law enforcement officers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other urban areas do not issue many such permits.
The court was also under pressure to rethink the “qualified immunity” that protects the police from many lawsuits involving excessive violence. However, Congress is also trying to rethink the doctrine as part of comprehensive police reform legislation. And at the moment, the judges don't seem to be ready to deal with the issue again.
When contesting California's protected area law, Trump's lawyers said the federal government had exclusive authority over immigrants and said the state was preventing the federal government from enforcing the law.
"Foreigners are present and are only allowed to stay in the United States, as provided for under the auspices of the federal immigration law," said Attorney General Noel Francisco in his appeal. "It is therefore the United States, not California, that" retains the right "to determine the conditions under which foreigners may be arrested, released and removed in that country. As a result of SB 54, criminal foreigners have been subjected to Congress' detention and Deported from deportation and have instead returned to the civilian population, where they are disproportionately likely to commit further crimes. "
In response, California's lawyers argued that the 10th amendment to the constitution clarifies that government officials are not required to enforce federal law. They were based in part on a 1997 Scalia statement that federal agencies may not "command" state or local officials to implement federal law. In this case, Printz v. The United States, the Supreme Court said local sheriffs could not be required to perform background checks on small arms buyers.
The same principle applies to the enforcement of the federal immigration law, Becerra said in defense of the law. “SB 54 regulates the use of government resources. It sets out the conditions under which state and local law enforcement agencies can use public funds and personnel to help enforce federal immigration regulations, ”he wrote.
California lawyers also stressed that the state works with federal agents when they have a warrant or when immigrants are detained for serious or violent crime, including prisoners who are in the state system.
The case was USA vs. California. State legislature passed the California Values Act in 2017 after the Trump administration stepped up enforcement against illegal immigrants. State lawmakers expressed concern that "local involvement in the federal immigration service jeopardizes trust between the California immigrant community and state and local law enforcement agencies." If so, immigrants will be "afraid to approach the police if they are victims of crime and witness to crime that threatens public safety for all Californians," said state lawyers.
The Trump administration, led by sessions, filed a lawsuit against California to invalidate state law. However, a federal judge in Sacramento and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declined to do so, instead ruling that state and local officials did not interfere with federal agents. "Refusing to help is not synonymous with disability," said District Judge John Mendez.
Although state lawyers set conservative precedents that safeguarded state rights, Trump's lawyers relied on a liberal Supreme Court decision in 2012 that sided with the Obama administration and much of a law from Arizona annulled that the local police had the authority to arrest and arrest immigrants illegally.
In Arizona against the United States, the Supreme Court then stressed that enforcement of immigration laws was a federal matter. Francisco cited this opinion, saying that the "supremacy of national power" in enforcing immigration laws "was clarified by the constitution."
Times co-worker Anita Chabria in Sacramento contributed to this report.