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The Supreme Court’s Rejection of Sanctuary City Case Is a ‘Major Setback’ for the Trump Administration

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the Trump administration’s request for the justices to hear arguments in a legal challenge to California’s “sanctuary city” laws, which protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. While the decision is likely to be overshadowed by the Court’s watershed civil rights ruling granting gay, lesbian, and transgender workers protection from discrimination under Title VII, attorneys said the Court’s denial is a stinging loss for the president and the latest in a continuing trend of federal court losses over sanctuary city laws.

By refusing to hear the Justice Department’s appeal, the justices left in place a lower court decision which left intact a series of laws designed to limit state officials’ cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Only staunchly conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted in favor of hearing the appeal.

The administration filed its initial legal challenge in 2018 under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, arguing that the federal government had sole authority over the enforcement of immigration law and alleging that California’s state law was meant to obstruct that enforcement. In response, California argued that, under the U.S. Constitution, state employees are not required to help enforce any federal laws.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge John Mendez, which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, reasoned that the state’s refusal to assist the federal government was “not the same as impeding” federal law.

“The denial of DOJ’s petition for certiorari in the California sanctuary city case is a really big deal—and a major setback for the Trump administration,” University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck wrote.

Policy counsel for the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick noted that out of a plethora of sanctuary city-related lawsuits, the Trump administration had only logged one memorable federal court victory.

“With the exception of the 2nd Circuit’s outlier decision on the Byrne/JAG grants, I think they’ve lost every single ‘sanctuary city’ case they’ve been involved in. They’ve even lost two decisions on courthouse arrests, following the resurrection of a common-law writ,” he wrote.

“The ‘sanctuary city’ case the Supreme Court refused to hear came after the Trump administration sued California for passing state laws limiting cooperation with ICE. As of now, the Trump administration has a nearly 100% losing rate on sanctuary city cases,” Reichlin-Melnick added in a separate tweet.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also celebrated California’s victory.

All told, the Supreme Court, by what it decided and declined to decide, handed the Trump administration three “big losses” on Monday.

What’s next? Look out for major decisions in the DACA, electoral college, and Trump tax return cases in the coming weeks.

[image via SAUL LOEB_AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.