On Tuesday, the federal Department of Justice announced that it is filing suit against the state of California to challenge a law that empowers the state to override the sale of federal lands. The state is vowing to secure its right to purchase federal lands or arrange for a specific buyer. When the law was passed in 2017 by the majority Democrat state legislature, lawmakers said that they were concerned over land development, as well as logging and oil exploration in the Golden State in the approximately 46 million acres owned by the federal government in California. The total acreage of California is approximately 100 million acres.
Filing suit in Sacramento, DoJ argues that California does not have the authority to interfere with federal land sales. Citing the Constitution and the 1850 act of Congress that admitted California to the union, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement, "Once again, the California Legislature has enacted an extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy."
Decrying the ongoing litigation between DoJ, California and other states that have invalidated aspects of President Donald Trump’s policies, Sessions denounced what he called "ideological judging" and "limitless injunctions" that he says allow one judge to hog-tie the administration's agenda. "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.
The administration argues that California's law is delaying federal land sales, including those that have been projected for years. For example, the auction of 1.7 acres owned by the U.S. Postal Service was suspended when no bids were tendered, and developer who wished to buy property at the shuttered Naval Air Station Alameda has requested a delay, the lawsuit claims.
In an email response to Spero News, attorney Jonathan Wood commented, “California’s law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s ability to decide what to do with its own land. Although California’s ultimate goal is diametrically opposed to the states that have long sought to force the transfer of federal lands, this attempt to veto federal land decisions will meet the same fate as those earlier efforts: it will be preempted as in conflict with federal law.” Wood is an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation -- a nonprofit law firm based in California.
Wood wrote, “So long as the federal government owns vast areas of western states, decisions about those lands will be made by distant D.C. bureaucrats, rather than the states and local people most affected by them. Although California’s law will likely be struck down, this case highlights once again that it is long past time to find a better solution to managing the 640 million acres of federal land than the endless, partisan conflict that we have now. The federal estate is too vast and too important to treat as just another a political football.”
According to PLF’s website, it defends it clients at no charge. It states that it takes on cases where government passes laws that “interfere with peoples’ right to freely associate and express themselves, acquire and use property, or earn an honest living.”
In response to the lawsuit, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said, "Yet again, Donald Trump and his administration are attacking our state and our very way of life." Newsom, a member of the State Lands Commission who is campaigning for the governorship. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), a former U.S. Representative, said in a statement, "Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder."