The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Monday struck down California’s ban on private immigrant detention centers. Private prison operator GEO Group, Inc. and the Biden administration initiated a lawsuit against the ban in 2020.
In an 8-3 decision, the Ninth Circuit stated that the California ban gave the state too much control over federal government operations. The law, AB 32, made it illegal for any private company to own and operate a detention facility in the state of California. The court noted that the federal government has come to rely almost exclusively on detention centers operated by the GEO Group and other companies, and the centers would have to be shut down if the law remained in effect.
The court explained that, in order to comply with AB 32, the federal government “would have to cease its ongoing immigration detention operations in California and adopt an entirely new approach in the state. This foundational limit on state power cannot be squared with the dramatic changes that AB 32 would require [the federal government] to make.” The court alsod cite issues with the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, writing, “any state regulation that purports to override the federal government’s decisions about who will carry out federal functions runs afoul of the Supremacy Clause.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta expressed disappointment in the decision, saying his office “will continue the fight to ensure the dignities and rights of everyone in California are protected.”
The state ban was enacted in 2019 and was quickly challenged by industry leaders. In 2020, a judge upheld the law, stating that California could prohibit private detention centers because federal law does not explicitly support or mandate their operation. Private prison groups and the federal government appealed, leading to Monday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit.