Federal Judge Rejects Administration Challenge To “Sanctuary Cities”

A Federal Judge in California has largely rejected a Trump Administration challenge to a series of new laws in California designed to protect so-called "sanctuary cities."

A Federal District Court Judge in California has ruled against the Trump Administration in case that the Federal Government had filed in an effort to block enforcement of state and local policies in the Golden State that bar local law enforcement from assisting Federal immigration enforcement officers in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants:

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in California on Thursday denied a request by the Trump administration to suspend California’s so-called sanctuary policies that limit cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local law enforcement.

In a decision praised by opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Judge John A. Mendez of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled that the state’s decision not to assist in federal immigration enforcement was not an “obstacle.”

“Standing aside does not equate to standing in the way,” the judge wrote in a 60-page ruling that was at times impassioned.

Judge Mendez described the case as presenting “unique and novel” questions about the balance in the country between state and federal powers.

“The Court must answer the complicated question of where the United States’ enumerated power over immigration ends and California’s reserved police power begins,” the judge said.

He urged Congress to find a “long-term solution” to federal immigration policy — “to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue.”

“Our Nation deserves it,” the judge wrote. “Our Constitution demands it.”

Judge Mendez was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush in 2007.


Opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policies heralded the ruling as a victory. “California is under no obligation to assist Trump tear families apart,” Kevin de León, who is running for senator in November’s election, said in a statement. “We cannot stop his meanspirited immigration policies, but we don’t have to help him, and we won’t.”

Lawyers for the Trump administration had argued that California lacked the authority to “intentionally interfere” with local governments’ voluntary cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Ilya Somin comments:

The Trump administration claims that SB 54 violates federal law because it conflicts with 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a controversial federal law mandating that “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” But Judge Mendez concludes that “the constitutionality of Section 1373 [is] highly suspect” after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Murphy v. NCAA, which struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law barring states that previously prohibited sports gambling from passing laws “authorizing” it. Murphy struck down PASPA because it “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do,” thereby violating the Tenth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has long interpreted to forbid federal “commandeering” of state governments in order to enforce federal law. As Mendez explains, “Section 1373 does just what Murphy proscribes: it tells States they may not prohibit (i.e., through legislation) the sharing of information regarding immigration status with the INS or other government entities.” A recent federal court ruling in a sanctuary city case involving the City of Philadelphia struck down Section 1373 under Murphy. Judge Mendez does not go quite that far, but instead interprets Section 1373 narrowly, so that it does not conflict with SB 54. He rules that Section 1373 does not require disclosure of information about immigrants addresses, release dates, and other matters, but only focuses on “immigration status,” narrowly construed. SB 54, Judge Mendez concludes, does not cover the latter type of information.

Mendez also rejected the federal government’s claims that SB 54 is preempted by federal laws facilitating the deportation of undocumented immigrants. As he explains, any such preemption would be unconstitutional, because the federal government cannot force states to assist in federal law enforcement efforts: “a Congressional mandate prohibiting states from restricting their law enforcement agencies’ involvement in immigration enforcement activities—apart from, perhaps, a narrowly drawn information sharing provision—would likely violate the Tenth Amendment.” I think Judge Mendez could have gone further than this, and ruled that there is no information-sharing exception to the anti-commandeering rule, not even a “narrowly drawn” one. But the conclusion he does reach is enough to deal with the claim against SB 54.

Judge Mendez also rejects the federal government’s case against AB 103, the detention facility inspection rule. He notes that the inspections required under the bill are similar to those that apply to other law enforcement detention facilities in California, and that they impose little in the way of new burdens on the federal government. They therefore don’t conflict with federal law, and do not qualify as unconstitutional discrimination against federal facilities: “[T]he review appears no more burdensome than reviews required under California Penal Code §§ 6030, 6031.1. Thus, even if AB 103 treats federal contractors differently than the State treats other detention facilities, Plaintiff has not shown the State treats other facilities better than those contractors.”

Judge Mendez did hand the Federal Government in that he rejected, for now, a challenge to one provision of California’s labor law that barred employers from seeking to reverify the immigration status of existing employees from doing so. That provision, the Judge held, stood as an obstacle to the Federal Governments efforts and interest in ensuring that only people who are legally entitled to work in the United States are employed, although of course such efforts don’t preclude the possibility of employees who are working “off the books” and being paid in cash. Even in the case of this provision, though, Mendez’s ruling is not final and leaves open the possibility that he could revisit the ruling on this matter after the presentation of more detailed evidence. For the time being, though, that particular provision of the law will remain in effect. On balance, though, this is quite clearly a defeat for the Trump Administration especially since, as Somin notes at the end of his post, one of the major considerations on ruling on a preliminary injunction is the question of likelihood of success on the merits. While there have been cases where a Judge who has denied or granted such an injunction has later turned around and ruled differently after evidentiary hearings and further legal briefs, it’s also a relative rarity in cases like this where both Plaintiff and Defense tend to be sure as much of their best case in the opening briefs as they can to advance their arguments.

This loss before Judge Mendez, who was appointed to the District Court by President George W. Bush in 2008, is clearly a significant defeat for the Justice Department, but it’s not entirely unsurprising. As I noted when the lawsuit was first filed some three months ago, the argument that the Federal Government is making is one that involves a relatively unique interpretation of the relevant Federal law, thus meaning that the outcome was at best, uncertain. This is especially true given the fact that there is a long line of Supreme Court case law, starting with South Dakota v. Dole in 1987, and continuing into the 1990s and as recently as 2011 with New York v. United States, Printz v. United States, and National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. In their own way, each of these cases stands for the proposition that Congress and the Executive Branch cannot force the states to enforce state law or otherwise override existing state law and policy except in very limited circumstances. Based on these and other cases, Federal Courts in California and Chicago have ruled against other aspects of the Trump Administration’s efforts to punish so-called “sanctuary cities.” Taking all of that into account, the outcome here is not entirely surprising.

As with the other “sanctuary cities” case, this case will most likely be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, although it’s possible that the Trump Administration may attempt the rarely granted option of seeking direct review of the opinion in the Supreme Court. Whatever route they choose, though, this ruling, along with the two previous ones noted above, means that the Administration’s efforts to punish “sancutary cities” remain on hold pending an order from a superior court.

Here’s Judge Mendez’s opinion:

US v. California Et Al Opinion by Doug Mataconis on Scribd


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Ah, Mendez…. so obviously one of those judges with foreign roots !
    We will have to do something to purge all these people with foreign backgrounds !

  2. TM01 says:


    I fully expect President OMG LITERALLY HITLER to send in the federal troops any minute now to arrest this judge.

    And since he’s well known for violating court orders, which is The Norm, I expect him to continue to punish California for their behavior.

  3. teve tory says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Yeah Judge Mendez ruled against trump? I can’t Imagine any racist tweets will result from That!

  4. Mister Bluster says:

    That would be
    Supreme Leader and Chairman of the REPUBLICAN Sex Workers Party Kim Jong Trump.
    “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

  5. teve tory says:

    @Mister Bluster: Trump can’t literally be hitler–>He said he wanted Jews counting his money, instead of blacks, because they’re lazy.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    …to send in the federal troops any minute now to arrest this judge.

    Arrest the Judge? This is small potatoes for your boyfriend Pud.
    He wants to invade Venezuela!

    BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?

    Are you sitting up straight at attention TinyMind0.000000001?

  7. grumpy realist says:
  8. An Interested Party says:


    That’s an insult to Hitler, who was far more successful and efficient at consolidating and keeping power than this clown…

  9. de stijl says:

    Trumpkins are small-time.

    The kids and the in-laws actually make real money at this, but that is still basic banana republic grift and graft, but the cabinet folks are so naive and small-time.

    Those folks grift James Bond door locks and literal cones of silence for their super important phone calls. First class flights or stolen military private jet time doesn’t put into billionaire oligarch status. Pruitt, Zinke, Price, Tillerson, Shulkin, et alia are pikers in comparison to true extortionary political graft. They fight over crumbs and their Russian counterparts are amazed at their incompetence and provincialism.

    Pruitt was likely the most self-serving US federal pol since Teapot Dome and he got essentially bupkis except for the cast-iron rice bowl which is conservative media complex as his next stop. He will eventually make millions by playing the victim on FOX News, but a nominally competent counterpart in Russia would have made billions in that job.

    A person in China who had Pruitt’s job would a multi-billionaire, and Pruitt just went for a cut -rate deal on a condo and a sit-down with a Chik-fil-a rep to get his wife a franchise and later a $200k consulting gig at a think tank.

    It’s a very, very good thing that our Trunp-enabled grifters are small-time; it’s a demented version of checks and balances. Next time we may not be so lucky.

    Trump is flirting so hard with Authoritarianism he has cheekily pushed the left bra strap off her shoulder and it is clinging delicately in the deltoid gap above the tricep.

    Yet he employs know-nothing blowhards like Bannon and Gorka and Miller and Scaramucci and Conaway and minions like Huckabee who think they’ve squared the circle, but are really pikers that generate more backlash than forward movement.

    Don’t get me wrong: Trump and his henchmen / women are a full stop, red-line emergency for our republic, but they are also incompetent, naive, and small-time.

    Next time we may not be this lucky.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    @de stijl: The only good thing, the only saving grace about this atrocious administration–it’s full of small-time idiots who aren’t smart enough to do real long-term damage…they make the Mayberry Machiavellis look like geniuses by comparison…that can be the Orange Clown’s final legacy–making George W. Bush seem wise, intelligent, and truly presidential…

  11. de stijl says:

    The guy after Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler, will not be a small-time grifter. He will knowingly cripple the EPA in ways that would make Pruitt blush in astonishment over what he could have done had he not been so self-focused. It’s going to get worse.

    This will happen with other agencies, too. The tail end of the Trump era will bite hard, and will take an enormous effort just to rectify. People will act in objectively evil ways between now and 2020 just for spite because they can.

  12. de stijl says:


    You first reaction is facetious “OMG LITERALLY HITLER”

    My first reaction was that cops should be in the business of putting people in jail that have intentionally harmed others above all else. If the bad guy is undocumented, jail him and deport him. If the evil-doer is a natural-born citizen, jail her.

    But don’t detain / deport witnesses or random passers-by because you can because they crossed your black-and-white immigration radar, because then we will get zero help from them, their families, their friends, and the entire community. They will disappear and when found will be blind, deaf and dumb.

    If we are bad-ass about immigration enforcement on people who are not the bad guys, the whole community will refuse to volunteer information or cooperate with you. If mi Tio Salvi got bounced because he reported being extorted by a neighborhood “protection” gang, if mi abuela got deported because she was in a car accident, I would do everything in my power to see you suffer and debased. I would never offer you help on anything forever and would try to strip whatever power you have.

    Would you rather convict a murderer, strong-arm robber, or a rapist, or deport an undocumented immigrant who has worked nights at Cicle K for 17 years? That is the choice.

    Tyrell literally cannot grok this argument. I think there are too many moving parts (two, actually, which is one too many).

    You, TM01, you who scurrilously accused my of antisemitism, can you understand that life situation? That utter black-and-white enforcement of immigration laws carried out by local cops not only can back-fire hypothetically, but will do so disastrously if we put your policy solution into place as law? That being bad-ass black-and-white on immigration means you let worse criminals slide?

    Are you okay with that?

  13. teve tory says:

    @de stijl: One positive aspect of the EPA debacle is that companies probly aren’t going to do high-polluting things that involve big capital expenditures and long timeframes. Smart money isn’t looking at trump and thinking these policies are going to be around after about three more years. Sure, they’ll try to get as much dumping and externalizing done as they can in that time, but it’s not like they’re hiring architects for 100 new coal plants.

  14. teve tory says:

    OT: Today in Hastert Watch I learned that now 6 former wrestlers at Ohio State have said Jim Jordan knew about the pervitude happening on his watch.

  15. de stijl says:

    @teve tory:

    Up from 5 yesterday.

    They tried to disccredit DiSabato when he was the sole named source a few days ago. Trying to shame and discredit an accuser? That never happens!

    “Golly, son, don’t push back – it’s just as it is. Politics ain’t cornhole. You fuck with us, we fuck with you.”

    n days later

    “Whoops, five more people backed him up, then you should prolly talk to our communications office if you would be so kind. No offense, by the way. If I offended you in any way the other day, I’m truly sorry. Please disregard my previous, um … saltiness, it was just [random mascot} fever, ya know. Our Fan Relations folks’ll set ya right up!”

  16. teve tory says:

    And now twitter says it’s 7. That Deep State is really somethin’.

  17. teve tory says:

    One of the 7 accusers is Former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman.

    I hope some GOP panelist like Dinesh D’Souza or Wayne Allen Root calls him a liar. I’ve never seen a human being torn in half before.

  18. de stijl says:

    @teve tory:

    When people realize they are not going to get hammered and abused by their friends and family and nearest and dearest, they will think about sticking their neck out.

    It’s not the fear of your enemy that stills you, it is the fear that your loved ones won’t rally to you. It’s the anticipation of public shame.

    When these things break, they break hard and fast. Acceptance and goodwill by one person or two people magnifies in one day a thousand fold. Day two or three, and if you’re a credible witness or accuser you feel obligated to answer the call. You needn’t, but you still feel it. So no shame or praise if you do or don’t – it’s a very personal thing.

  19. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @grumpy realist:
    In the future it should not surprise us that BCP & ICE will begin installing microchips into children.

  20. teve tory says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: That might be an improvement. It’s looking like the Trump administration will fail to reunite some parents with their kids permanently.

    Good job, jeff sessions, you fine upstanding christian.

  21. teve tory says:

    @teve tory: That reminds me of something Kevin Kruse has started doing on twitter: when some rando sends him hate tweets like “Suck It LibTURD!”, he clicks on their bio, finds where they inevitably describe themselves as “Christian”, and tweets the screenshot. 😀

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @teve tory:
    Invariably the biggest assholes online describe themselves as Christian. It’s an asshole-identifier.

  23. Kathy says:

    @teve tory: @teve tory:

    It’s looking like the Trump administration will fail to reunite some parents with their kids permanently.

    That was on purpose. They never cared enough about immigrants and asylum seekers as people, to at least keep track of where they ended up.

  24. Tyrell says:

    Many people and leaders in California are speaking out and taking action concerning the “sanctuary” policy of Governor Brown. Some cities are pulling out of that. People are seeing the problems this causes. Violent criminals should not be protected.
    Look at the Kate Steinle tragedy. A person who was in this country illegally and had a criminal record a mile long was responsible for killing an innocent bystander. He had been deported four times. The jury bought a tale that he found a gun, dropped it, and it went off killing an innocent person. Talk about the “magic bullet theory” in reverse!