Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s national campaign against illegal immigration suffered setbacks Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases on two cities’ ordinances that sought to require proof of citizenship to rent housing.
Kobach had assisted in the writing and legal defenses of laws passed by the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, and the Pennsylvania coal country town of Hazleton, about 80 miles northeast of the state capital of Harrisburg.
Both cities had sought to levy fines against landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and to require prospective tenants to get a city renting permit by proving they were legally in the United States.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to take the cases leaves intact earlier federal appellate court rulings that struck down the cities’ laws.
“Those are both cases I was involved in and those cases are now finished,” Kobach said. “It was a bit of a surprise, but you never can predict with certainty which cases the Supreme Court will take.”
The Supreme Court’s decision was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups opposing Kobach’s efforts.
“Today, the ordinances’ supporters failed in their final, last ditch attempt to resurrect these laws, which have been blocked for years without ever going into effect,” said a statement by Omar Jadwat, supervising attorney of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Now that these appeals are over, we look forward to Farmers Branch and Hazleton joining cities across the nation that are looking at ways to make their cities welcoming places for immigrants, rather writing hostility and discrimination into municipal law.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to bypass the Farmers Branch and Hazleton cases means that different case law continues to rule on the issue in different parts of the country.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the Farmers Branch law and the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia struck down Hazleton’s. But the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit largely upheld a similar immigrant rental law in Fremont, Neb. Kansas is in the 10th Circuit.
“There’s a split between the circuit courts on this issue, no one can argue that,” Kobach said. “At this point the law is applied differently in the 8th Circuit than it is in the 3rd and 5th circuits.”
And that may not be resolved anytime soon, Kobach said.
The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund has appealed the ruling in the Fremont case, but Kobach said he does not expect the Supreme Court to take that case either.
Because of a slightly different path through the lower courts, it’s about a month behind Farmers’ Branch and Hazleton, said Kobach, who is also co-counsel for Fremont.
“I think it’s unlikely the court will take the Fremont case,” Kobach said. “It presents the same issues and if the court says in March it does not think that issue is worthy of review, it’s probably going to say the same thing in April.”
The battles in Farmers Branch, Hazleton and Fremont are part of a larger war over immigration policies pitting Kobach against the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU in localities across the country.
In Kansas, the legal defense fund is part of a federal lawsuit challenging the legality a Kobach-sponsored state law requiring proof-of-citizenship documents – essentially a birth certificate or passport – to register to vote. That case was argued last month in Wichita and is awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren.
The ACLU has filed a separate legal challenge in Topeka against the same law.