SFGate, a San Francisco-area local news outlet, recently published an article claiming that, “Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Thursday that would have ensured undocumented immigrants would not face civil arrest when going to court on another matter.” But that’s not remotely accurate. Governor Brown did, in fact, veto the ill-considered SB349. However, that bill would never have prohibited the federal government from arresting illegal aliens in the Golden State’s courthouses.
The United States is a federal union. That means that it is composed of fifty sovereign states that have agreed to function together as a single nation. The United States Constitution governs the relations between the federal government and the states.
Under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution certain functions are specifically committed to the federal government, and the states have no authority to pass legislation regulating these areas. Immigration is one of these functions. Defense, diplomacy and the minting of currency are other examples.
Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution is known as the “Supremacy Clause.” It clearly establishes that the federal constitution and federal laws trump state laws. More importantly, the Supremacy Clause specifically prohibits states from impeding the federal performance of functions that are exclusively entrusted to the federal government by the Constitution.
The regulation of immigration is an entirely federal area of responsibility. Pursuant to the 10th Amendment, California lacks the authority to dictate to the federal government where and how it can arrest immigration violators. And, even if California had any power to pass legislation on this issue, it wouldn’t matter. Under Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the governing federal statute, would trump any California statutes.
So, did Governor Brown veto SB349 because it’s unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void? No, he was worried that the bill might have unintended consequences. SB349 would have prohibited the civil arrest of anyone in a California courthouse while attending a court proceeding or having legal business in the courthouse. That’s a problem, because every day, in every court in the United States, thousands of people are subject to civil arrest for violating all manner of laws and court orders. In essence, had SB349 been signed into law by Governor Brown, the Golden State would have shot itself in the foot and hobbled both its court system and many of its own law enforcement agencies.
Why not just draft legislation specifically referencing immigration arrests? Because any mention of immigration would likely have meant that California was impermissibly intruding into federal jurisdiction. So, the bill’s sponsors tried to play it off as legislation granting judges “the power to preserve and enforce order in judicial proceedings” and, in the process, nearly eliminated their state’s ability to effectuate civil arrests of everyone from debt defaulters to fish-and-game violators.
What’s most disturbing, however, about SB349 isn’t the virtue-signaling incompetence that led to its veto. Rather, it’s the fact that, if the bill hadn’t inconvenienced California courts, and California law enforcement, Governor Brown would have signed it into law. And he would have done so knowing full well that – like sanctuary state legislation – the bill was both unconstitutional and an egregious violation of the principles of federalism on which the United States was built. Because the people currently running California care more about “immigrant access to courts” than they do about the safety of U.S. citizens.