US District Judge Laurie Smith Camp ruled Wednesday that the Nebraska Supreme Court [official website] should be the first forum to address a city of Fremont ordinance [No 5165 text] banning the hiring, harboring or renting of property to illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive]. The order requests that the parties attempt to agree upon the language of a question [Fremont Tribune report] to be submitted to Nebraska's high court and advises that any remaining federal issues will be addressed following that court's decision. The controversial ordinance would require all employers in the city to register for the E-Verify program [DHS website] and would make it a crime to rent to illegal immigrants. It would also void any lease entered into by an illegal immigrant and would require every person seeking to rent residential property to obtain an occupancy permit from the city, which would require the applicant to sign a declaration affirming his or her US citizenship or otherwise provide a visa or employment authorization number. Smith Camp's ruling comes after combining lawsuits [JURIST report] from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) [advocacy websites] filed in the US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] last month.
Following last month's challenges to the ordinance, passed via referendum in June, the Fremont City Council voted unanimously and without debate to suspend the legislation [JURIST reports] until a resolution was reached. The council also approved the hiring of Kris Kobach [academic profile], a law professor and Kansas political candidate, to defend the city against the lawsuits. Kobach assisted in the drafting of the ordinance and the Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] and offered his assistance to Fremont pro bono. The ACLU challenged the law based on the Equal Protection and Supremacy [Cornell LII backgrounder] clauses of the US Constitution [text]. MALDEF's lawsuit [complaint, PDF] makes nearly identical arguments, adding that the ordinance interferes with a person's right to enter into and enforce contracts under federal law [42 USC § 1981 text] and violates Article 11 of the Nebraska Constitution [text] because the Fremont municipal government has not been empowered by the Nebraska Legislature [official website] to enforce immigration law. Additionally, MALDEF cites five cases of similar local laws that were struck down by federal and state courts, including a nearly identical law struck down [JURIST report] by a federal district court in Texas. A previous version of the ordinance was narrowly voted down [BBC report] by the city council in 2008.