California's embattled sanctuary law is expected to continue to make its way up the judicial system following a court ruling last week in favor of one of the cities aiming to exempt themselves from the law.
Huntington Beach is one of several cities in Southern California's Orange County that oppose the California Values Act, which bars state and local employees from aiding federal immigration enforcement. Last week, California Superior Court Judge James Crandall in Orange County ruled in favor of Huntington Beach's lawsuit to exempt itself from the Act. Huntington Beach had argued that as a charter city, which follows its own laws on a host of issues of municipal governance, it is not beholden to the California sanctuary law and can allow local police and other local government employees to supply Immigration and Customs Enforcement with data and other assistance.
Huntington Beach applauded the decision. "The [decision] is a significant victory for the rule of law, the CA Constitution, the City's Charter authority, and other Charter Cities," Michael Gates, the Huntington Beach city attorney, writes in a statement emailed to Pacific Standard.
But California Attorney General Xavier Becerra indicated that the legal battle was not over.
"Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules. We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state," Becerra writes to Pacific Standard in an email. (A spokesperson for Becerra adds that the court was still issuing a written order in the case, which would detail the full scope of the judge's ruling.)
Gates says that Huntington Beach is prepared for what comes next. "We will continue to hold Sacramento accountable for unconstitutional State law overreaches. The City of Huntington Beach will not allow Sacramento to violate its Constitutionally protected rights."
The case will likely end up in the California Supreme Court, says Sameer Ahmed, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern California office. And he is confident that Sacramento will prevail.
"The California Supreme Court has interpreted the provision of the California constitution that allows charter cities to control their municipal affairs," Ahmed says. "They created a four-part test. One part says that if the state law addresses a matter of statewide concern, even if it addresses a municipal affair, a charter city cannot opt out of it."
The Huntington Beach case is one of several simultaneous cases involving California's sanctuary law. A federal judge tossed a Trump administration request for a preliminary injunction against the Values Act in July, but the administration appealed that decision and the case will likely be heard in coming months. That case may go before the United States Supreme Court, Ahmed says.
Huntington Beach is among 121 other California charter cities. Many of the California cities seeking to exempt themselves from the Values Act thus far have been located in Southern California's Orange County.
The first of the Orange County cities was Los Alamitos, which in March approved a city ordinance exempting it from the Values Act. Like Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar cited his municipality's charter city status when he spoke to Pacific Standard of the ordinance ahead of a trip to Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump met with him and other California Values Act opponents for talks.
Edgar hailed the Huntington Beach decision and its portents for Los Alamitos. "This is a victory against California's Sanctuary Laws and for local control," he says.
Together with other immigrant rights groups, the ACLU sued Los Alamitos over its ordinance earlier this year. That suit stands, the ACLU's Ahmed says. A court date has not yet been set.
Edgar had started a GoFundMe page in response to the lawsuit to gather funds to battle the ACLU in court, but he says the future of that bid is now uncertain. "The court had recently moved our case to this same judge because they believed these two cases were related. Now that Judge Crandall has made his ruling, many believe our case is now moot. That would be great news, but we will have to wait and see," Edgar says. He adds that, depending on the written court order, the Huntington Beach decision could extend to the whole state, exempting charter cities from the Values Act. In that case, Los Alamitos wouldn't need its ordinance, Edgar says. "Without an ordinance on the books, the ACLU should drop their lawsuit."
Ahmed says that the ACLU will push forward with its suit against Los Alamitos, arguing that, unlike Huntington Beach, "Los Alamitos has never sought a court ruling. Instead, the city took the law into its own hands. That's clearly illegal." Ahmed adds that, in the Los Alamitos case, the ACLU and other litigants "remain confident, despite the court's ruling in Huntington Beach."
Whatever the impending order on Huntington Beach reads, Edgar agrees that the issue is likely to go to the state Supreme Court. "There is not clear case law on this issue. This is a fight for local control of our law enforcement," he says.
Ahmed is confident that the California Values Act will succeed at the federal level too. As an indication of where the changing Supreme Court stands on state rights, Ahmed cites a U.S. Supreme Court case in May in which the justices ruled to uphold state authority in Chris Christie vs. NCAA. The decision was premised on the Tenth Amendment, which reserves power not specifically granted to the federal government for the states.
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on how the Huntington Beach decision might affect its federal appeals case.
Those who believe California has a right to withhold support from immigration agents have also frequently cited 2012 Supreme Court case Arizona v. United States, in which the justices ruled against an Arizona law allowing police to assist federal immigration agents. That assistance amounted to the state encroaching on a matter of federal jurisdiction, the court found.
There are no firm answers, though, for the time being. And it appears that all the various suits and appeals on the Values Act may take months—if not longer—to adjudicate.