Fifth Circuit rules against Farmers Branch

I almost missed this.

When will they learn?

A federal appeals court has upheld the ruling that struck down a Farmers Branch renters ordinance aimed at banning illegal immigrants from rental housing in the city.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday upholds the federal government’s right to control immigration laws through the Constitution’s supremacy clause.

“This is a national problem, needing a national solution. And it impacts the nation’s relations with Mexico and other nations,” the decision said.

The appeals court ruled that the ordinance was more than a housing regulation and was “designed to burden aliens, both documented and undocumented, in Farmers Branch. As such, the ordinance serves no legitimate city interest…”

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hadn’t read the decision, or spoken to the outside legal counsel. But, he said, “I have supported our stance on illegal immigration because I feel something must be done.”

Glancy said he couldn’t say yet whether the city would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One reason why that might not be such a hot idea is in the Huffington Post story:

William Brewer, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he sensed a “strong undercurrent” throughout the appellate court’s decision that Farmers Branch was engaged in discrimination. The ruling is particularly meaningful because the 5th Circuit has a reputation for conservatism, he said.

Brewer noted that the ruling affirms Boyle’s decision that Farmers Branch must pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which before the appeal were nearly $2 million. He called that portion of the decision “a strong deterrent” against other cities seeking to pass similar laws.

“Clearly, both the trial court and the appellate court recognize that this ordinance was discriminatory,” Brewer said.

That’s on top of the $4 million they’ve spent so far; who knows how many more millions they’d have to waste pursuing a Supreme Court appeal. They haven’t shown any evidence of sanity on this, however. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way, I suppose.

The plaintiffs don’t think it’s over yet, either.

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who argued the case before the 5th Circuit in October, didn’t downplay the significance of the ruling, which she said came from one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country.

“This is a stern message from the federal court that ordinances that target people for expulsion based on their race or ethnicity are unconstitutional, even if you dress them up as local immigration laws,” she said.

But while the ruling is a victory for immigrants in the realm of housing, she said the effects on other aspects of immigration law cannot be easily predicted. That’s because immigration laws are often packaged into big omnibus bills, she said — including some pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A lot of these laws are a smorgasbord,” she said. “Some have to do with police, some have to do with employment, day laborers, solicitation of employment, some with housing.”

And coming up next month is the SCOTUS hearing on Arizona’s notorious SB1070, which was the basis for the “sanctuary cities” bill that Rick Perry declared an emergency but which thankfully did not pass. While most of that bill has been blocked by the lower courts, some portions of it were upheld. Regardless of what happens, there’s likely to be a lot more attempts by cities and states to regulate immigration in some fashion, and a lot more litigation to follow it. Given how lawsuit-happy some Attorneys General have been of late, even if Congress manages to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, I doubt that will stop any of this activity any time soon.

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