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Huntington Beach’s fight against ‘sanctuary state’ law ends as California Supreme Court declines to hear case

Demonstrators protest against Senate Bill 54, a California “sanctuary state” law, during a Huntington Beach City Council meeting in April 2018.
(File Photo)

The California Supreme Court has declined to review an appellate court ruling that determined Huntington Beach would not be exempt from following a “sanctuary state” immigration law.

The decision Wednesday caps a legal dispute that began in April 2018, when the city argued it should be exempt from Senate Bill 54, officially known as the California Values Act, because it is a charter city. The city contended that the California Constitution grants charter cities — which are governed by a charter adopted by local voters — greater authority to impose laws and supersede state laws.

“This is tragic for the rule of law and for local control efforts,” Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said Thursday in a statement. “Now the lower court ruling stands, which opens the floodgates for the state to legislate and control every aspect of local governance.

“This case in particular set the table for the Supreme Court to resolve a number of unanswered issues relating to state vs. local control. It’s too bad that with now so much uncertainty, the state will continue to erode local city control.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta echoed Gates’ comments.

“My concerns have much less to do with the SB 54 law but with the broader concern about opening the door to more attempts by the state to usurp local control,” Semeta said.

In September 2018, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in Huntington Beach’s favor, exempting the city from complying with the California Values Act, which in many cases prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal officials about the impending release of immigrants in custody who may be deported. That decision made Huntington Beach the first city to successfully challenge the law in court.

Later that year, the state attorney general’s office filed a notice of appeal. Then the American Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal in January 2019 on behalf of residents, workers and community organizations in Huntington Beach and the city of Los Alamitos, which also was fighting the law.

On Jan. 10 this year, a three-justice panel of the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal overturned the county judge’s ruling.

The Supreme Court’s denial of Huntington Beach’s petition for review means the case is “done,” Gates said.

The attorney general’s office Thursday repeated a quote that Attorney General Xavier Becerra gave in January: “As the appellate court noted, SB 54 is constitutional and furthers the state’s interests in addressing matters of statewide concern — including public safety and health, effective policing and protection of constitutional rights.”

Huntington Beach activist Oscar Rodriguez, one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU appeal, said Thursday that he and other community members in the Oak View neighborhood, which is predominantly Latino, are “ecstatic” about the outcome. Activists have said their neighbors were reluctant to interact with the Huntington Beach Police Department out of fear that local law enforcement officials were participating in federal deportation programs.

“We knew the law was on our side when this campaign of hate started rippling throughout here in Orange County,” Rodriguez said.

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