Trump And California Escalate Legal Battles, Twitter War

It is the third time in nearly as many weeks that either the Justice Department or California have announced lawsuits against one another

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April 3, 2018

The Trump administration on Monday opened its latest legal front against the state of California, this time over a state law that restricts the U.S. government's ability to sell and manage federal land in the golden state.

It is the third time in nearly as many weeks that either the Justice Department or California have announced lawsuits against one another.

The Justice Department on Monday filed a civil action in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California seeking an injunction against a measure the Democrat-controlled state legislature passed in October.

The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, gives the State Lands Commission the power to block the sale, donation, or exchange of federal lands by the federal government to any other person or entity.

Known as SB 50, the law also seeks to penalize with fines up to $5,000 any person who knowingly files real estate records relating to a federal land transfer unless the California government certifies that the transfer complies with state law.

California's legislature passed the law in an attempt to prevent the possibility that the Trump administration could sell any land that state leaders wanted to preserve, such as national parks or monuments or any of the 46 million acres it owns in California.

The state's lawmakers are also concerned that the Trump administration would open up more federal land in California to logging, oil drilling, or development.

The Trump administration argues that the new law is unnecessarily delaying land sales that have been planned for several years, lowering their value in the process.

At least one developer has put the purchase of property at former Naval Air Station Alameda on hold while it analyzes the impact of the new law, the Trump administration said in the lawsuit. The base closed 20 years ago and has faced several hurdles in its transition to civilian work and recreational space.

The planned auction of 1.7 acres of U.S. Postal Service property in the state also fizzled when nobody bid, Justice lawyers said. The law also has thwarted a Veteran Affairs plan to rebuild its West Los Angeles campus and rent land for housing, the lawsuit contends.

The Justice Department cites the Constitution's supremacy clause, which gives federal laws priority over state ones, as the basis for its legal action.

"The Constitution empowers the federal government—not state legislatures—to decide when and how federal lands are sold," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Monday. "California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land. And yet, once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy."

Sessions issued a second statement late Monday afternoon saying that he regrets "the need to file another lawsuit against the state of California" but he was forced to because California believes it's "above the law" and is passing unconstitutional laws that interfere with the federal government's ability to do its job and filing lawsuits that won't stand up in court but delay administration's policies.

"Government-by-litigation isn't what the American people voted for and attempting to thwart an administration's elected agenda through endless, meritless lawsuits is a dangerous precedent," Sessions said.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also serves on the state's lands commission and is running for governor, said the Justice Department's legal action against the state amounted to an "attack" on California and challenges "our very way of life."

"Safeguarding public lands is in our DNA as Californians—so much so that we have enshrined the principle in our state Constitution," he said. "We will use every legal and administrative took to thwart Trump's plans to auction off California's heritage to the highest bidder."

Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, vowed to fight the lawsuit.

"#California's public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder! We're prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources, and our values," Becerra tweeted Monday.

The legal action is yet another clash between President Trump and California's liberal movement determined to demonstrate its resistance to his presidency and policies.

Environmentalists in the state are incensed over a previous presidential order directing the Bureau of Land Management to consider changes to protections for the state's deserts. Becerra also has responded to the administration's push to permit oil drilling off California's coasts.

The Trump administration on Monday signaled that it will likely upend California's ability to impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions than the rest of the country.

After weeks of speculation, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday confirmed that it would revoke Obama-era fuel-economy rules aimed at pressing automakers to manufacture cleaner cars and SUVs.

California Gov. Jerry Brown called the move a "belated April Fools' Day trick."

"This cynical and meretricious abuse of power will poison our air and jeopardize the health of all Americans," he tweeted.

The administration in early March announced it would challenge the state's so-called sanctuary policies, restricting local law enforcement’s communication with federal immigration authorities.

Brown on Sunday also pardoned five illegal immigrants convicted of crimes who faced deportation, drawing a Twitter rebuke from Trump.

Trump lambasted Brown, referring to him as "Gov. Jerry 'Moonbeam' Brown," highlighted that the crimes he pardoned included "kidnapping and robbery," "badly beating wife," and "dealing drugs."

"Is this really what the great people of California want?" he asked.

Last week, Becerra launched a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Democrats argue the questions would depress illegal immigrants' participation in the national survey, and potentially cost the state Congressional districts as a result.

Sessions has also recently reversed Obama-era guidance when it comes to prosecuting federal laws making the use or sales of marijuana a crime even though state legislatures in California, Oregon, and Washington have legalized it.