The Federal Government filed a lawsuit, naming Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and the State of California for banning the operation of private detention facilities. The complaint is seeking a federal judge in San Diego to rule Assembly Bill 32 unconstitutional because it violates the United States Supremacy Clause.
On January 1, 2020, AB 32, became law and eliminated all contracts with private or for-profit prisons in the state. By signing the bill into law, Gov. Newsom made the state responsible for incarcerating all of its prisoners and closing down all four ICE detention centers. According to the complaint, “California can not dictate that choice for the Federal Government, especially in a manner that discriminates against the Federal Government and with whom it contracts.”
Assembly members who backed AB 32 were Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).
During his inauguration, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he would get rid of the private prison industry in California, calling for an end of the “outrage of private prisons once and for all.” Proponents of AB 32 say the private prison contractors are incentivized to incarcerate or detain citizens or those in the country illegally.
According to the U.S. Attorney General complaint, “The constitution, numerous acts of congress, and various implementing regulations give the federal government both the authority and the prerogative to house individuals in its custody, including in private detention facilities.“
The lawsuit states that the federal government is exercising its authority with private detention facilities to house federal prisoners and detainees, and it plans to continue that practice in order to address serious needs for detention space in California and elsewhere.
The complaint reads, “The federal government must be allowed to make these policy choices without interference from the several states.”
The United States is seeking to invalidate AB 32, stating the statute is preempted by federal law, impermissibly discriminates against the federal government, and obstructs federal operations.
The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution mandates the Constitution, and the laws of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land. The plaintiffs state the constitution also affords the President of the United States the authority to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Gov. Newsom is accused of overstepping his authority by passing AB 32 and phasing out federal ICE detention facilities.
The plaintiffs state, “The United States also has full authority to house federal detainees when exercising its constitutional power as a sovereign to control and conduct relations with foreign nations. Congress has exercised its authority to make laws governing the admission, entry, presence, status, and removal of aliens within the United States by enacting various provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws regulating immigration.“
Under AB 32 no one is permitted to operate a private detention facility within California under a contract made or extended after January 1, 2020. However, the Department of Homeland Security is congressionally authorized to provide appropriate detention facilities for detainees, including renting “facilities adapted or suitably located for detention” and by entering cooperative agreements with states and localities.
Without private detention facilities, AB 32, according to the complaint, would cripple the U.S. Marshals Services in California, especially in the Southern District of California. USMS would need to relocate nearly 50% of its inmates in the Southern District of California and nearly 30% of its inmates across California.
Due to a lack of beds in California, the prisoners would have to relocate, creating a ripple effect in other districts neighboring California. The process of relocating inmates would cause prisoners to be isolated from their families, who are usually located in California and may lack resources to visit the prisoner.
The GEO Group filed a similar lawsuit in in San Diego Federal Court in January. The GEO Group is a company based in Florida that owns and operates private detention facilities nationwide including the Western Region Detention Center in San Diego.
Nationwide, the Bureau of Prisons houses almost 25,000 of its over 175,000 inmates (approximately 14%) in private detention facilities. In California, BOP houses about 2,200 of its about 16,00 inmates (approximately 14%) in private detention facilities.