States’ Rights Are What Jeff Sessions Says They Are
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States’ Rights Are What Jeff Sessions Says They Are

The Attorney General Sues California Over Its Immigration Stance

OK, if truth be told about caring about lawsuits involving the president, we may be more interested in Stormy Daniels’ request that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge invalidate any hush-money agreement (or arbitration) between Trump and herself about their sexual trysts.

After all, the details are delicious; there’s more than enough hypocrisy to spread among the president, the porn star, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen; and the tales of 19 other women whose denied challenges might surface through legal depositions might be illuminating.

And, it is easy to understand—sex, money and secret payoffs.

But since we have lashed ourselves to the serious gaps of public policy thinking, we instead need to focus on the simultaneous lawsuit by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice against the State of California over the state’s immigration policies. Basically, Sessions stood up during a speech to peace officers to launch a broadside against California attempts to maintain the sanctuary cities law that Sessions said protects undocumented immigrants from arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Actually, what sanctuary cities say is that they will not go to extraordinary efforts to spend local police time seeking out the undocumented unless the immigrants are stopped in connection with substantial crimes. In part, it is a position built on maintaining trust with immigrant communities for real crime investigation, and, in part, it is, as Sessions suggests, a chance to poke the feds in the eye over trying to deport people for traffic violations and the like.

To Sessions, the central issue here is support for law and order, carrying out the rule of law, without states picking and choosing.

To me, the central issue here is whether, and under what circumstances, we have a Republican-dominated central government that is abandoning its tradition of supporting states’ rights.

When it comes to enforcement of civil rights legislation involving race or the protections of using transgender bathrooms, the feds are missing in action. Instead, they argue for a local jurisdiction to apply local traditions, local financial and cultural mores and local enforcement measures toward ends that have been outlined by federal legislation.

But when it comes to this issue of immigration, or issues about protecting same-sex marriage or the use of marijuana or ensuring voting rights, this Republican, small-federal government party sticks its head in the sand. It believes in no principles other than, “Do what I want.”

It feels as if we have been here before: When Trump said he would issue an executive order to punish states with so-called sanctuary cities, the courts stopped him. Presumably, these will be the same arguments. What happens if Sessions and Justice lose this fight? Indeed, as a Washington Post column noted, lower courts have split on whether it is legal for the federal government to require local law enforcement to hand over immigrants. There are also intersecting, and sometimes contradictory, laws about state rights and immigration. Sessions kept the focus narrowly to three laws, which may make the suit more possible, but experts note that the 10th Amendment of the Constitution helps states’ rights.

Here’s Sessions explaining: “I understand that we have a wide variety of political opinions out there on immigration. But the law is in the books and its purposes are clear and just. There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land. I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg, to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”

In that vein, his lawsuit filed in federal district court aimed to block three so-called sanctuary laws the California legislature passed last year. The Justice Department asks the court to stop the three laws, which it argues are designed to intentionally obstruct and discriminate against the enforcement of federal immigration law.

The laws:

  • Prohibit private employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration officials with a court order;
  • Prevent state and local law enforcement officials from giving federal immigration officials information about the release date of removable immigrants in their custody;
  • Create an inspection and review scheme that requires the California Attorney General to investigate the immigration enforcement efforts of federal agents.

“The provisions of state law at issue have the purpose and effect of making it more difficult for federal immigration officers to carry out their responsibilities in California,” the administration wrote. “The Supremacy Clause does not allow California to obstruct the United States’ ability to enforce laws that Congress has enacted or to take actions entrusted to it by the Constitution.”

Sessions argued that California’s laws are harmful to its residents, and prevent law enforcement officers from doing their jobs. In particular, he criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who last month warned residents of an impending ICE raids. Schaaf defended her decision even after ICE said it was unable to locate more than 800 people as part of its sweep of the city.

California lawmakers have pushed back against the lawsuit since it was first reported and vowed to continue upholding the state’s policies. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called the lawsuit a “political stunt.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said the Trump administration was attempting to “bully California.”

At the end of the day, I’d like to see Sessions and the Trump administration to put as much effort into keeping DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigrants, and to encourage more programs to assimilate and build upon the successes different immigrant communities have achieved.

Likewise, other than knowing that there is a Stormy Daniels, what I really want in the current case is to see Sessions, head of the Justice Department, take up the cases of victims of the president’s unrestrained campaign of assaultive behavior toward women across America, and not willing to put up with customs local to, say, Trump Tower.

March 8, 2018