ACLU Supports Appeals Court Temporarily Blocking Florida Law Restricting Homeownership for Chinese Immigrants

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By Jenna Tooley

TALLAHASSEE, FL— In a significant development, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary injunction against the enforcement of Florida’s SB 264. This law, deemed unconstitutional, prevents Chinese immigrants from purchasing homes in specific regions of the state. This decision comes as a relief for two Chinese immigrants who have legally challenged the discriminatory statute and signals a potential setback for the controversial law.

 

In May 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 264 into law, claiming to safeguard national security by restricting property acquisition by Chinese nationals in Florida. However, the ACLU, in collaboration with partner organizations, contends that this legislation perpetuates anti-Asian discrimination, reminiscent of historical land laws targeting the community since the 1880s. The crux of the matter lies in distinguishing Chinese individuals from the Chinese government, highlighting the potential consequences for Chinese families, students, and business owners aspiring to establish themselves in the state of Florida.

 

The ACLU, along with its partners, has initiated legal action against the state of Florida over SB 264. The lawsuit, Shen v. Simpson, asserts that the law not only legitimates but also extends housing discrimination against individuals of Asian descent. The core argument posits that SB 264 violates both constitutional principles and the Fair Housing Act, emphasizing the broader societal impact and potential reverberations of such discriminatory legislation.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and law firm Quinn Emanuel, are representing the Chinese immigrants affected by SB 264. The law, if fully implemented, would prohibit certain Chinese immigrants, including professors, students, employees, and scientists, from buying homes in extensive areas of Florida. Multi-Choice Realty, a local real estate firm adversely impacted by the law, is also part of the legal challenge.

 

One plaintiff, directly impacted by the ruling, expressed relief, stating,  “Today’s decision is a relief for me and my family, and we hope that the courts will permanently halt enforcement of this law”.

 

The unanimous decision by the court of appeals stems from the argument that SB 264 is preempted by federal law, as Congress has already established a system for national security review of real estate purchases by foreign nationals. The injunction prevents the law’s enforcement against two plaintiffs while the court evaluates the merits of the appeal.

 

Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project, commented on the decision, saying,  “There’s no doubt that Florida’s discriminatory housing law is unconstitutional. The court’s decision brings two of our clients tremendous relief, and we will continue fighting to prevent this law from being enforced more broadly.”

 

SB 264, if implemented, would prohibit non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent homes in China from purchasing property in Florida, with limited exceptions. Notably, people from China face harsher restrictions and criminal penalties compared to immigrants from other countries affected by the law.

 

Bethany Li, legal director of AALDEF, emphasized the law’s violation of the Equal Protection Clause, stating,  “Florida’s alien land law specifically targets Chinese individuals in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Today’s ruling should serve as a warning to other states who are considering passing similarly racist bills.”

 

Li urged the nation to focus on progress and enact laws that protect all communities, cautioning against a regressive trend that revives laws from over a century ago. The legal battle against SB 264, which restricts Chinese immigrants’ ability to purchase property in Florida, is seen as a critical test of constitutional principles and a potential deterrent against discriminatory legislation in other states.

 

Florida’s SB 264 draws parallels to historical discriminatory laws, such as the early 20th-century “alien land laws” that targeted Asian immigrants. The court’s decision is seen as a crucial step in preventing the revival of antiquated and discriminatory practices.

 

Clay Zhu, attorney and managing partner at DeHeng Law Offices PC, remarked on the court’s decision, stating,  “This Florida law is just like the alien land laws of more than a hundred years ago banning Asian Americans from owning land. It is unfair, unconstitutional, and un-American. We are encouraged by today’s decision from the court.”

 

In June 2023, the United States Department of Justice emphasized the potential harm caused by the law and its infringement on civil rights and constitutional guarantees.  “These unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the state’s purported goal of increasing public safety,” stated the DOJ in June.

 

The recent ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals marks the latest decision in an ongoing legal battle. Previously, in August, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled against those challenging the law. Judge Winsor contended that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate intentional discrimination by the Republican-controlled Legislature against Chinese individuals during the law’s passage.

 

The 11th Circuit’s ruling has implications for the broader conversation around equal protection and civil rights, as it challenges the constitutionality of a law perceived as targeting specific national origins. The case continues to garner attention, underscoring the ongoing efforts to address the intersection of immigration, housing, and constitutional rights.

 

About The Author

Jenna Tooley is a third-year senior studying Political Science with a concentration in American Politics and minors in Global Studies and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has a passion for social justice and advocacy work and intends on pursuing Law School in the very near future, with a potential specialization in Criminal Law in aims of dismantiling the stigma around incarcerated people and addressing the root causes of recidvism to provides incarcerated people resources and rehabilitation to independently function upon re-entry into society. Outside of her advocacy work she enjoys traveling and sightseeing, aborbing the ambiance of coffee shops, and thifting as a form of self-care.

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