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Some of the California sanctuary laws targeted by feds could be vulnerable, legal experts say

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SAN FRANCISCO -- California's three new "sanctuary" laws, challenged in court this week by the Trump administration, face different hurdles and have varying vulnerabilities, legal experts said Wednesday.

Law professors who read the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions generally described it as a credible challenge that presents complex legal questions that might wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The arguments made by the Justice Department are not at all lightweight arguments," said Pepperdine law school professor Douglas W. Kmiec. "They are quite substantial."

The federal government has wide authority over matters of immigration, and Sessions has charged that California's new laws usurp or pre-empt federal rules.

The supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution says federal law takes precedence over state laws, and Sessions' suit accuses California's new regulations of violating that provision.

Most analysts said they expected California would prevail in defending a law that prohibits state and local law enforcement from voluntarily giving federal immigration authorities information about the release dates of immigrant inmates.

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Federal district judges have decided in favor of cities with ordinances that limit law enforcement's cooperation with immigration agents, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government may not commandeer states into becoming the enforcement agents of federal law.

In 1997, for example, the Supreme Court said a federal law requiring state and local governments to do background checks before issuing permits for firearms violated the 10th Amendment.

"The state is trying to say, we are only going to cooperate with the federal government to the extent required by federal law," said the University of California, Davis law school Dean Kevin R. Johnson.

California acknowledges that "the federal government is in charge of immigration, and we have to cooperate," Johnson said, " but we don't have to go one inch further."


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