Victory! Ninth Circuit Refuses to Close Alien Detention Centers in California

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September 27, 2022

Agreeing with IRLI, full court finds state law unconstitutional

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, in a crucial victory, the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, struck down a California law that would have ended all alien detention in the state. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) had filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the full court urging it to find this law unconstitutional.

Earlier, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit also had struck down the law. But the full court vacated that decision and reheard the case en banc. In June, when IRLI filed its brief before the en banc court, Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI, commented:

“As disturbing as it is that the full Ninth Circuit took up this case, in which the panel had reached the right result, we hope the full court will reach that same result for the reasons we provide, and acknowledge that this law flagrantly defies the Constitution.”

In its brief before the full court, IRLI showed that the California law is preempted under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because it intentionally interferes with the federal program of using contractors to house immigration detainees, that no “presumption against preemption” applies because immigration is exclusively an area of federal concern, and that the law also violates the immunity doctrine.

In its opinion yesterday, the full Ninth Circuit agreed with each of these points, finding the state law unconstitutional because it would veto the federal government’s decision to use private contractors to detain aliens in California.

“We applaud the full court for recognizing that the intended effect of this law—to end federal detention of aliens in California—is what makes it unconstitutional,” said Wilcox today. “Under our Constitution, a state may not interfere with—much less cancel—federal immigration law enforcement, and we are pleased that California’s law attempting to do just that is no more.”

The case is The GEO Group, Inc., v. Newsom and United States v. Newsom, Nos. 20-56172, 20-56304 (Ninth Circuit) (en banc).

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