Department of Justice sues California over land transfer law

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of California over a law requiring the federal government to give the state's land commission the option to buy federal land before it can be transferred to another owner. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI

April 3 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Justice sued California on Monday over a law allowing the state to block the U.S. government from selling federal land.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against California Senate Bill 50, which requires the federal government to give the state’s land commission the option to buy federal land before it can be transferred to another owner because the Justice Department claims it is unconstitutional.

“The Constitution empowers the federal government — not state legislatures — to decide when and how federal lands are sold,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “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.”

California state Sen. Ben Allen, who authored the legislation, told The Washington Post the law was “very carefully crafted” and intended to ensure the state would have the chance to intervene if the federal government sought to sell land worthy of conservation.

“We’ve got a different outlook here, and you know, look, I think that Jeff Sessions, of all people, should know the value of allowing states with different perspectives to do things the way they want to do things, within reason,” Allen said. “This is a perfect example of that. We value our public lands, and it’s an important part of being in California.”

The Justice Department argues SB 50 violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states federal law “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby.”

“Since the founding of the Republic, it has been fundamental to our constitutional system that a state may not discriminate against the United States or those with whom it deals,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. “We will vigorously defend this principle.”

The Justice Department’s complaint also listed land transfers by the U.S. Army, Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs affected by the law.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he was “prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources, and our values.”

“California didn’t become our nation’s economic engine and the sixth-largest economy in the world by just sitting back. We blaze trails, we innovate, and we engage in smart stewardship of our precious public lands. Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder,” Becerra said.


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