Appeals Court Rules California’s Ban On For-Profit Prisons, Immigration Detention Centers Is Unconstitutional
Jail bars - stock photo Soft focused prison bars. naphtalina via Getty Images
Jail bars – stock photo Soft focused prison bars. naphtalina via Getty Images

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked California’s ban on private prisons and for-profit immigration detention centers after a panel of judges ruled against it last year.

The panel of eleven judges said that federal law, specifically the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, supersedes the state measure. 

The Supremacy Clause, or Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution, holds that the U.S. Constitution and federal legislation takes priority over the laws of states. 

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding,” the Constitution reads in part.

Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote the opinion for the majority. 

“The en banc court held that AB 32 would breach the core promise of the Supremacy Clause. To comply with California law, ICE would have to cease its ongoing immigration detention operations in California and adopt an entirely new approach in the state,” Nguyen wrote. “This foundational limit on state power cannot be squared with the dramatic changes that AB 32 would require ICE to make.”

The state was sued by the federal government and a federal contractor, which asked that the law’s execution be blocked by injunction. A district court refused.

Last year, three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the measure was in conflict with the powers of the federal government.

“AB 32 cannot stand because it conflicts with this federal power and discretion given to the Secretary (of Homeland Security) in an area that remains in the exclusive realm of the federal government, and it bars the Secretary from doing what federal immigration law explicitly permits him or her to do,” Judge Kenneth Lee wrote.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta then asked that a larger panel review the ruling, according to Politico. This week, the higher court got rid of the lower court’s ruling refusing an injunction and returned it to be reviewed.

The 2019 law, Assembly Bill 32, would not have allowed the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to incarcerate anyone in a “private, for-profit prison facility” after January 1, 2028. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed the law in 2019, and it was originally sponsored by Bonta when he was in the California Assembly. 

Bonta’s office said it is looking over the ruling but is “deeply disappointed” by it. The measure “was enacted to protect the health and welfare of Californians and recognized the federal government’s own documented concerns with for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities,” his office noted in a statement, per Politico.

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