A federal judge in New Jersey struck down AB 5207 on Tuesday, concluding that New Jersey’s ban on detaining individuals for violating US civil immigration laws is unconstitutional. US District Judge Robert Kirsch found that the New Jersey law, as applied to a private prison operators, violates the US Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
Kirsch found that AB 5207 violates the Supremacy Clause as applied to the private prison operator CoreCivic. CoreCivic operates private prisons that partner with the state and federal government to detain mostly US asylum seekers and undocumented people. Kirsch noted that the Supremacy Clause prevents the court from giving effect to state laws that stand in conflict to federal laws. Here, Kirsch viewed New Jersey’s ban as an effort to overcome an area of law governed by the federal government.
Kirsch also acknowledged that the US Supreme Court has “consistently relied on the Supremacy Clause to strike down state laws that dictate how the federal government carries out its federal functions.” Thus, Kirsch concluded that AB 5207, “a state law that wholesale deprives the federal government of its chosen method of detaining individuals for violating federal law[,] cannot survive Supremacy Clause scrutiny.”
Enacted in 2021, AB 5207 prohibits entities like CoreCivic from prospectively contracting to own or operate facilities in New Jersey that detain individuals for violating civil immigration law. CoreCivic sued because its contract to continue operations with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) expires August 31. Under AB 5207, it would be unlawful for CoreCivic and ICE to renew the contract. Therefore, CoreCivic sought to have a federal court strike down the New Jersey ban.
Under federal law, 8 U.S.C. § 1231 authorizes ICE to determine the “appropriate places of detention” for individuals detained for civil immigration violations. Additionally, this federal law requires ICE to “consider the availability for purchase or lease” of detention facilities before building a facility. The court found that AB 5207 conflicted with this federal law and declared it as unconstitutional as applied to CoreCivic’s operation. The court also permanently enjoined New Jersey’s ability to enforce the law against CoreCivic with respect to its relationship with ICE.
In response to the ruling, New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin announced he will appeal the decision.