Judge rules Huntington Beach can defy California’s sanctuary law
|| OC Register
“Huntington Beach can immediately start ignoring California’s contentious “sanctuary state” law, a judge ruled Thursday, Sept. 27.
But even before he announced his decision, Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall acknowledged that the case will wend its way through higher courts for months to come.
In April, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that Senate Bill 54 unconstitutionally interferes with the city’s charter authority to enforce local laws and regulations.
Signed into law last year, SB 54 limits interaction between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials — with exceptions, including cases that involve violent or “serious” felonies.
Crandall opened the hearing complimenting both sides, saying he found the opposing attorneys’ briefs “stimulating, in fact, invigorating.”
“I realize this is a very important case with significant implications,” he said.
From there, still early in the three-hour hearing, Crandall signaled that his sympathies lay with the city. Citing parts of the state constitution that grant charter cities a degree of autonomy, he said, “Laws are protections for the little guy, in this case, the city.”
Century-old constitutional amendments that allowed cities to create their own charters were meant to restrict “the ever-extending tentacles of state government,” Crandall said.
Huntington Beach is one of 121 charter cities in California, a designation decided by voters. Charters accord greater control over “municipal affairs,” such as how a city conducts elections and deals with its employees.
Still, California’s constitution holds that charter cities are subject to the same state laws as “general law cities” on matters considered to be of “statewide concern” — a point emphasized by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Eisenberg.
The constitution’s charter rules do not give cities “a get out of jail free card,” Eisenberg said.
Specifically, Gates, Eisenberg and Crandall debated the two “subsections” of Section 5, Article 11, in which the constitution defines charter powers. Subsection A states that charter cities can “be subject to general laws.” Subsection B enumerates four areas over which a charter may bestow control, including “government of the police force.”
Crandall agreed with Gates that the subsections should be viewed as independent of one another, while Eisenberg said, “You do not get to skip whether there’s a matter of statewide concern.”
Huntington Beach, Eisenberg said, “is not a unique city” from the rest of California. And as a tourist destination visited by thousands of nonresidents, he said, what happens there regarding immigration enforcement affects the entire state.
Occasionally, Crandall drifted away from the core of the lawsuit – that SB 54 violates a charter city’s sovereignty – harshly criticizing SB 54 as forcing cities into “one size fits all” policing. He complained that legislators “want to keep bossing people around.”
When Eisenberg said that local law enforcement can still communicate with immigration officials regarding serious crimes under SB 54, Crandall replied, “You haven’t tied their hands and feet, you’ve just taped their mouths.”
Several times, the judge noted the presence of Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy in the courtroom. After granting the city’s request to be free from enforcing SB 54 while the decision undergoes an appeal, Crandall said, “I think Chief Handy wants to get out there and do his good police work as soon as possible.”
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