In a closely watched legal battle, the California attorney general’s office has filed notice that it will appeal an Orange County Superior Court judge’s ruling that the city of Huntington Beach is exempt from complying with a state law providing “sanctuary” protections for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Eisenberg’s notice of appeal, filed Thursday, will move the case to the state 4th District Court of Appeal for review by a panel of three judges.
Senate Bill 54, formally known as the California Values Act — authored by state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) — 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.
In September, Superior Court Judge James Crandall sided with Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates, who argued that the law is unconstitutional as it applies to charter cities like Huntington, which are run by a charter adopted by local voters.
The ruling made Huntington Beach the first city to successfully challenge the controversial law.
Though Crandall’s ruling only mentioned Huntington Beach, Gates has said it makes all of California’s 121 charter cities exempt from SB 54.
After the ruling, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his office would fight to make sure laws such as the California Values Act were upheld throughout the state.
“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” Becerra said.
Jennifer Molina, press secretary for the attorney general’s office, could not immediately be reached for further comment Friday.
On the other hand, Gates says he’s ready to defend Huntington Beach’s authority as a charter city.
He said in a statement Thursday evening that he’s confident the appeals court would uphold Crandall’s ruling, which Gates described as “detailed, well-reasoned and based upon good, strong legal authorities.”
“I am proud of the work my legal office has done in defending the city’s constitutional rights,” Gates said. “We have to stand up for our city and the community’s rights, and we will hold Sacramento accountable for passing unconstitutional laws.”
During a September hearing, Crandall said “the operation of a police department and its jail is a city affair. For the state to say one size fits all for policing isn’t going to fit everybody.”
However, Eisenberg contended that municipalities can exercise other forms of autonomy and that there is an “important need” for a uniform public safety law.
Huntington Beach joined a wave of Orange County opposition to SB 54 that started in March when the City Council in Los Alamitos — another charter city — passed an ordinance to opt out of the law. Since then, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has voted to join a federal lawsuit against the measure, the Costa Mesa City Council has adopted a resolution opposing the law and the city of Fountain Valley has signed on to a law group’s brief supporting the federal case.
The Newport Beach City Council passed a resolution opposing SB 54 and authorized filing a legal brief supporting the federal lawsuit. Newport, also a charter city, hasn’t yet filed such a brief.