Judge strikes down California law restricting federal land sales

(Reuters) – A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a California law that restricted the U.S. government’s ability to sell or transfer federal lands in the state to private entities, handing a victory to the Trump administration.

In a decision on Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Shubb in Sacramento, California said the law discriminated against land purchasers who deal with the United States.

He said the law violated the so-called doctrine of intergovernmental immunity and the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which governs conflicts between state and federal laws, and issued a permanent injunction against its enforcement.

The U.S. Department of Justice had in April sued California over the law known as Senate Bill 50, which gave the California State Lands Commission a right of first refusal over many land transfers.

Supporters hoped the law would stop the Trump administration from selling land that could later be used for oil drilling, mining or property development.

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the law in Oct. 2017. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The state lands commission, represented by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Shubb’s decision could allow the sale of more federal land in California.

The federal government owns about 46 million acres in the state, or 46 percent of California’s total acreage, according to the Congressional Research Service.

California is one of many Democratic-controlled or -leaning states that have passed laws to counteract policies endorsed by President Donald Trump, a Republican, and his administration.

Shubb, however, said Senate Bill 50 illegally impeded the federal government’s ability to manage its land through such agencies as the National Park Service, National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The judge also said California did not show that its law was needed to protect “sensitive” and “unique” lands.

“Rather, SB 50 uncritically uses federal administrative and institutional categories to target the federal government and those with whom it deals for regulation,” Shubb wrote.

Shubb was appointed to the bench in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

The case is U.S. v California et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, No. 18-00721.

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