After considering a major case involving immigration — this time, an effort by the federal government to invalidate one of California’s so-called “sanctuary state” laws — at 12 consecutive conferences, the justices declined to add the case to their docket. Passed in 2017, S.B. 54 (known as the California Values Act) prohibits state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration officials – for example, by providing information about individuals in custody, or transferring inmates in their custody to federal immigration authorities.
The federal government sued California in 2018, arguing that S.B. 54 and two other state laws passed at the same time were superseded by federal immigration law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the district court’s decision not to block S.B. 54. There is, the court of appeals acknowledged, “no doubt that S.B. 54 makes the jobs of federal immigration authorities more difficult,” but “California has the right,” the court reasoned, “to refrain from assisting with federal efforts.”
The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court last fall. Describing S.B. 54 as the “centerpiece of California’s scheme,” the government argued that the law “openly seeks to undermine federal immigration enforcement” and “discriminate against the federal government.” The lower courts’ rulings, the government asserted, have “significant real-world consequences.” Unless federal law enforcement officials are willing and able to “stake out a jail and seek to make a public arrest,” the government explained, noncitizens with criminal records will be released and returned to the community, where they are “disproportionately likely to commit crimes again.”
The justices first considered the case in January but put the government’s petition on hold for nearly two months. They listed the case for consideration at their conference in early March and then repeatedly relisted it at every conference since then before announcing today that they had denied review. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted publicly that they would have granted the government’s petition, but there is no way to know how the other justices voted, or why the court delayed action on the petition.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.