Appellate Panel Upholds Decision to Block Prop. 187


A federal appeals panel has ruled that a U.S. District Court judge acted appropriately in blocking most portions of Proposition 187 from taking effect prior to an upcoming federal trial to determine the immigration initiative’s constitutionality.

The appellate decision, released Friday, is yet another setback to the initiative’s proponents, who include Gov. Pete Wilson and Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. And the ruling further prepares the stage for a full-blown trial in September on the legality of the divisive ballot measure, which won overwhelming voter approval in November.

On July 26, U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer is due to hear a motion by anti-187 attorneys asking that she declare the measure unconstitutional without need for a full-fledged trial. If Pfaelzer, who issued the preliminary injunction against the initiative, denies the motion, she is due to conduct the trial in her Los Angeles courtroom.


“We’re very, very pleased,” said Thomas A. Saenz, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of several civil rights groups challenging the initiative. “Proposition 187’s numerous constitutional problems will prevent it from ever being implemented.”

Venice civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman, who has also filed a lawsuit against the measure, said: “Now, as an absolute minimum, the provisions of Proposition 187 won’t go into effect, if at all, until well into the next millennium.

“The [U.S.] 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals] has sent a not-so-subtle message by releasing this decision on Bastille Day--this means off with the heads of Proposition 187,” Yagman said.

Matt Ross, a spokesman for Lungren, issued a terse statement saying the ruling “was not totally unexpected.” A spokeswoman for Wilson had no immediate reaction.

The three-member appellate panel determined that Pfaelzer did not abuse her discretion when she refused a state request that she abstain from presiding over the case prior to state courts determining the initiative’s legality.

The appellate panel cautioned “the parties not to read too much” into the decision. “We only hold now that the District Court’s application of the abstention law for purposes of a preliminary injunction was not an abuse of discretion. We need not and should not go farther in our review at this time.”


However, the ruling did “confirm that had Proposition 187 been enforced [after the November election], thousands of people would have suffered greatly and unnecessarily and illegally,” said Alan Rader of O’Melveny & Myers law firm, which is challenging the initiative on behalf of a 14-year-old illegal immigrant who had a kidney removed at a public hospital and needs continuing care.

The appellate ruling was the latest in a string of defeats for the initiative, which would bar illegal immigrants from public education, non-emergency health care and social welfare services.

In February, Lungren and Wilson filed suit in a San Francisco Superior Court, asking that the initiative be interpreted in a way that would conform to state and federal law. However, the suit was moved to a federal court where U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen rejected the state’s arguments.