Republican attorneys general from 17 states backed Florida this week in a legal battle about a 2019 law that banned so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.
The attorneys general filed a 41-page brief at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supporting Florida’s attempt to overturn a district judge’s ruling last year that blocked key parts of the law. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom pointed to Republican lawmakers having “discriminatory motives” in passing the fiercely debated measure (SB 168).
The friend-of-the-court brief, led by the attorneys general in Alabama and Georgia, said Bloom “ascribed racial animus to the Florida Legislature with no justification whatsoever.”
“The district court might (and clearly does) disagree with Florida’s political judgment about whether immigration laws should be enforced, but that should not be relevant,” the brief said. “This (11th Circuit) Court should undo the district court’s openly partisan ruling and put an end to this practice of legislation by judicial fiat.”
The brief also said courts are required to follow a “presumption of legislative good faith.”
“It has become increasingly common for courts to invalidate state laws not because there is evidence of any racial intent but because courts assume that certain policy positions (like opposition to unlawful immigration) are inherently suspicious,” the brief said. “The district court here joined that growing chorus of federal courts holding SB 168 to be racially discriminatory because its supporters opposed unlawful immigration. That flips the presumption of good faith on its head, and this (11th Circuit) Court should emphatically reject that outcome-based reasoning.”
The document echoes arguments that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office made in a brief filed last week. That brief said Bloom “committed numerous errors to arrive at the remarkable conclusion that the Florida Legislature had secret racist motivations in enacting SB 168.”
Bloom issued a 110-page ruling in September that said two major parts of the law violated constitutional equal-protection rights and issued a permanent injunction against them.
One of those parts banned state and local agencies from having “sanctuary” policies that would prevent law-enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.
The other part required law-enforcement agencies to use “best efforts” to support enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The South Florida-based Bloom delved extensively into the Legislature’s development of the law and pointed to what she described as an “immigrant threat narrative” that helped lead to it. She also cited behind-the-scenes involvement of the group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement in pushing for the law, including contacts with the office of Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.
“Based on the evidence presented, the court finds that plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of the evidence that SB 168 has discriminatory or disparate effects on racial and ethnic minorities, and these discriminatory effects were both foreseeable and known to the Legislature at the time of SB 168’s enactment,” she wrote.
Lawmakers passed the measure in May 2019 along nearly straight party lines, before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it. The city of South Miami and several groups, such as the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Farmworker Association of Florida, filed the lawsuit in July 2019. Bloom dismissed parts of the case in 2019 but allowed other parts to move forward.
Along with Alabama and Georgia, Republican attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia signed on to this week’s brief.
Moody, DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature during the past few years have taken a series of steps targeting immigration issues, including Moody filing lawsuits against the Biden administration over border enforcement.
The Legislature in March passed an immigration-enforcement bill (SB 1808) that was a priority of DeSantis. The bill has not been formally sent to the governor for his signature.