Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the following statement regarding the court’s ruling in the Eastern District of California declaring California Senate Bill 50 (SB 50) unconstitutional:
“The court’s ruling is a firm rejection of California’s assertion that, by legislation, it could dictate how and when the federal government sells federal land. This was a stunning assertion of constitutional power by California, and it was properly and promptly dismissed by the district judge. It is unfortunate that, in the interim, California forced both the Justice Department and the court to spend valuable time and resources to dispose of its baseless position.
“This is the third time in the last few months that a federal court has struck down as unconstitutional all or parts of a law that California designed to frustrate federal law. This trend is concerning, and the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defend the rightful duties of the federal government in court, and ensure that no state, including California, subverts the enforcement of federal law.”
In April this year, the Department of Justice filed a civil action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California against the State of California, Governor of California Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr., and the California State Lands Commission, seeking a declaration that California Senate Bill 50 (SB 50), enacted in October 2017, is unconstitutional and seeking an injunction against implementation of this state law. The California law purported to give a state agency the power to block the sale, donation or exchange of federal lands by the federal government to any other person or entity. SB 50 also sought to penalize (up to $5,000) any person who knowingly filed real estate records pertaining to a federal land transfer unless the California government certified that the transfer complies with state law.
The District Court for the Eastern District of California found that SB 50 interfered with the federal government's constitutional authority to convey federal land in the State of California. Under a range of federal laws, Congress has empowered federal agencies with the responsibility to determine when, to whom, for what purpose, and under what conditions federal interests in property will be conveyed. Federal conveyances serve a broad range of purposes such as supporting national defense, promoting local economic development, furthering land conservation, or otherwise providing important public benefits.