Florida disputes claim that sanctuary cities ban had 'racist motivations'

click to enlarge SCREENGRAB VIA FLA. AG ASHLEY MOODY / TWITTER
Screengrab via Fla. AG Ashley Moody / Twitter

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office this week asked a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling that blocked key parts of a 2019 law that banned so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.

A 61-page brief filed at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disputed conclusions last year by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom that Republican lawmakers had “discriminatory motives” in passing the highly controversial immigration-enforcement law.

The brief said Bloom “committed numerous errors to arrive at the remarkable conclusion that the Florida Legislature had secret racist motivations in enacting SB 168 (the law).”

“The law promotes public safety in facilitating federal immigration enforcement against criminal aliens, while expressly prohibiting racial discrimination in its implementation,” the brief, filed Wednesday, said. “The district court found a hidden racist motive only by ignoring key provisions of the statute, failing to afford the Legislature a presumption of good faith and placing great weight on the thinnest of evidence.”

Bloom issued a 110-page ruling in September that said two major parts of the law violated constitutional equal-protection rights and issued a permanent injunction against them.

One of those parts banned state and local agencies from having “sanctuary” policies that would prevent law-enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.

The other part required law-enforcement agencies to use “best efforts” to support enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The South Florida-based Bloom delved extensively into the Legislature’s development of the law and pointed to what she described as an “immigrant threat narrative” that helped lead to it. She also cited behind-the-scenes involvement of the group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement in pushing for the law, including contacts with the office of Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.

“Based on the evidence presented, the court finds that plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of the evidence that SB 168 has discriminatory or disparate effects on racial and ethnic minorities, and these discriminatory effects were both foreseeable and known to the Legislature at the time of SB 168’s enactment,” she wrote.

Lawmakers passed the measure in May 2019 along nearly straight party lines, before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it. The city of South Miami and Several groups, such as the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Farmworker Association of Florida, filed the lawsuit in July 2019. Bloom dismissed parts of the case in 2019 but allowed other parts to move forward.

The brief filed this week argues, in part, that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the law. That argument includes issues about the lawsuit naming Moody and DeSantis as defendants.

“Plaintiffs claim injury principally from supposed racial profiling and other discriminatory law enforcement practices,” the brief said. “But those alleged injuries have little to do with the governor or the attorney general, who do not conduct such law enforcement activities and have at best attenuated supervisory authority over officials who do. Still less do those injuries stem from Florida’s immigration-cooperation law (SB 168), which principally operates in prisons and jails and has nothing to do with racial profiling. Plaintiffs also failed to prove that they suffered an injury in fact by diverting resources away from their core missions — rather than simply spending resources to carry out their missions — and failed to show that their members have been harmed by SB 168.”

But the brief also extensively tried to rebut Bloom’s conclusions about discriminatory motives, saying evidence was “woefully insufficient to show racial discrimination.”

“The Legislature’s purpose was plainly to promote public safety through facilitating federal immigration enforcement against criminal aliens, and the Legislature included a provision in the law prohibiting discrimination in its implementation,” the brief said.

Moody, DeSantis and Republican lawmakers during the past few years have taken a series of steps targeting immigration issues, including Moody filing lawsuits against the Biden administration over border enforcement.

The Legislature in March passed an immigration-enforcement bill (SB 1808) that was a priority of DeSantis. The bill has not been formally sent to the governor for his signature.

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