Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject of sanctuary cities. It’s a subject that’s got the nation’s attention in the aftermath of Kate Steinle’s murder on Pier 14 in San Francisco. What’s been central to this debate is whether Congress would withhold money from so-called sanctuary cities as punishment for not working with ICE. What hasn’t been talked about is whether sanctuary cities are legal.
After reading the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Hines v. Davidowitz, a strong case can be made that the Supreme Court has already ruled against sanctuary cities. The portion of the Hines v. Davidovitz majority opinion that addresses sanctuary cities comes where it says that “When the national government by treaty or statute has established rules and [312 U.S. 52, 63] regulations touching the rights, privileges, obligations or burdens of aliens as such, the treaty or statute is the supreme law of the land.”
Justice Black wrote that “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution was pointed out by authors of The Federalist in 1787,9 and has since been given continuous recognition by this Court.”
That means that state laws or local ordinances that undercut federal statutes on “immigration, naturalization and deportation” are unenforceable because the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority on the issues of immigration, naturalization and deportation.
That isn’t to say that local law enforcement can’t be deputized to assist federal officials in enforcing federal statutes. That isn’t just permissible. It’s literally been that way for decades. That’s permissible because local law enforcement is enforcing the laws that Congress has passed and that the president has signed.
What’s still debatable is which people have standing to challenge sanctuary cities laws in the courts. While that’s still a sticky question, there’s little doubt that sanctuary cities laws aren’t enforceable because municipalities and counties don’t have the authority to write statute about “immigration, naturalization and deportation.”
It appears as thought it’s just a matter of time before someone with standing files a lawsuit against sanctuary cities. When that happens, those cities’ laws will get struck down, most likely by a 9-0 vote in the Supreme Court.
In most cases, the liberal justices find a way to let their policy preferences influence their judicial rulings. In this instance, there isn’t that type of wiggle room because the U.S. Constitution vests all lawmaking on immigration issues with the federal government.