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DOJ sues California over new law banning private prisons
© WikiMedia (Michael Coghlan)
DOJ sues California over new law banning private prisons

The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Friday against the State of California claiming that a new banning the operation of private prisons is invalid because the State cannot dictate with whom the Federal Government can contract.

Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), which became effective on January 1, 2020, bans the operation of private detention facilities in California. The federal government claims that its laws preempt the state law and that the law is a violation of intergovernmental immunity. The federal government argues that the federal government has federal authority, through the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, to determine the parties it contracts with to uphold the executive branch’s power for enforcing federal criminal laws. Additionally, the claim states that Congress has given explicit power to the Attorney General of the United States that ultimate responsibility in overseeing correctional facilities and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and that Congress has expressly provided BOP with the power to “designate the place of … imprisonment” for sentenced criminals.

In the lawsuit, the federal government states the AB 32 significantly impacts the ability to incarcerate people in California. “A.B. 32 would cripple [the United States Marshals Service] operations in California” because it would need to relocate “50% of its inmates in the Southern District of California,” where the lawsuit was filed, “and nearly 30% of its California inmates.” The federal government argues that the relocation would impact the operations of the US Marshals Service and would isolate prisoners from their families. The suit also states that the Bureau of Prisons would need to relocate, 2,200 inmates, or approximately 14 percent of its population in California, which would be a significant cost to taxpayers.

The suit also states the effects the bill would have on detained immigrants. The federal government says that it has approximately 5,000 spaces for immigrants in detainment centers operated by private entities. These 5,000 spaces comprise approximately 96 percent of the spaces used by ICE, and each would need to be relocated. In addition, to stating that the relocation would isolate detainees from their families and be a cost to taxpayers, the federal governments states that detainees are heightened security risk during transfer. The federal government states that AB 32 is invalid because the federal government has the full power to make and enforce laws regarding immigration, including the detaining of immigrants.

The federal government is asking the federal district court for injunctive relief.