Friday 18 August 2023

Judge Denies ACLU Request To Block New Florida Chinese Land Ownership Law

 A federal judge rejected attempts by four Chinese citizens and a real-estate firm on Thursday to block a new Florida law restricting Chinese nationals and nationals of some other countries from purchasing land or homes in the state.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor denied an injunction requested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law, contending the group failed to prove the law’s purpose is to discriminate based on national origin and race rather than based on citizenship.

Winsor, who former President Donald Trump appointed, wrote in a 51-page decision that U.S. Supreme Court precedents have “held that states could deny aliens ownership interests in land within their respective borders absent an arbitrary or unreasonable basis.”

“It does not facially discriminate against noncitizens based on race or ancestry. It does not discriminate against noncitizens based on ‘the particular country in which one was born,’” Winsor wrote in part, quoting a Supreme Court precedent. “So contrary to plaintiffs’ arguments, the challenged law is facially neutral as to race and national origin.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled state legislature took on the Chinese Communist Party earlier this year when they passed SB 264, which went into effect on July 1, severely restricting foreign entities or affiliates from buying farmland in Florida or land within 10 miles of military bases and critical infrastructure.

Lawmakers reportedly crafted the legislation to protect Florida from the rising “geo-political threat” of the Chinese government subverting national and state security. While Chinese nationals could face harsh criminal penalties, the law also puts less restrictive rules on immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria.

Almost immediately after DeSantis signed the law, the ACLU sued the state to strike down the legislation on behalf of four Chinese nationals living in Florida and the law firm Quinn Emanuel, arguing that it’s unconstitutional and violates equal protection rights and the Fair Housing Act.


“In our view, which the U.S. Government has supported as an amicus, people from China should be no less welcome in Florida than they are elsewhere in the United States and free to participate in the housing market on equal footing with everyone else,” Derek Shaffer, a partner at Quinn Emanuel, said in a news release.

Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a news release that the civil rights group plans to appeal the decision.

“While today’s decision is disheartening, our clients will continue to fight for their rights to equality and fairness on appeal,” Gorski said. “Florida’s law legitimizes and expands housing discrimination, in violation of both the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act.”

The Biden administration also filed a “statement of interest” in support of the lawsuit, contending that the new law violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

“These unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the state’s purported goal of increasing public safety,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.

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