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Supreme Court declines to hear legal battle over California sanctuary law

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Washington — The Supreme Court declined Monday to wade into a legal battle over a California sanctuary law that restricts when state and local law enforcement can assist federal authorities with immigration enforcement activities. 

In rejecting the Trump administration's request to hear the case and sidestepping another politically charged showdown over President Trump's immigration policies, the measure will remain intact. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have taken up the case.

The California law at the center of the dispute was enacted in 2017 and lays out the circumstances under which state and local authorities can assist with federal immigration enforcement actions. The statute, known as Senate Bill 54, prohibits state officials from notifying U.S. immigration officers of when immigrants are going to be released from custody and providing federal officials with other information.

The Trump administration sued California over the law in 2018. But the federal district court declined to block enforcement of the statute, finding that its provisions did not create an impermissible obstacle to enforcement of federal law. The Justice Department appealed the ruling from the district court, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision not to block the measure from taking effect.

The San Francisco-based appeals court said that while "we have no doubt that SB 54 makes the jobs of federal immigration authorities more difficult," the state "has the right ... to refrain from assisting with federal efforts."

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said that the ruling from the appeals court "has significant real-world consequences."

"When officers are unable to arrest aliens — often criminal aliens — who are in removal proceedings or have been ordered removed from the United States, those aliens instead return to the community, where criminal aliens are disproportionately likely to commit crimes," Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote. "That result undermines public safety, immigration enforcement, and the rule of law."

But California's top officials said its "choice of how to allocate its own law enforcement resources is consistent" with federal immigration law.

The measure at issue "does not address — much less interfere with — the federal government's discretion to regulate the detention and removal of non-citizens according to the [Immigration and Nationality Act's] mandates and federal enforcement priorities."

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