« These illegal provisions will cause serious harm to individuals simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and fail to advance the state’s alleged goal of enhancing public safety, » the Justice Department wrote. .
The new law goes into effect on July 1.
The department’s lawsuit is just the latest skirmish between the Biden administration and DeSantis in recent years, but it marks the first significant conflict since DeSantis entered the race for president a month ago.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the governor’s office or Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Nor were comments provided in response to a request from the state Department of Economic Opportunity or Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, both named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
A spokesperson for Simpson said the commissioner would allow his brief response, which was due to be filed in federal court by July 3, to speak for itself.
DeSantis has repeatedly warned during the election campaign that the Chinese are a major threat to the United States and argued that Biden has been too soft on dealings with the communist country.
“Our food security is also our national security,” DeSantis said at the bill’s signing event last month. « So we don’t want the CCP to do any food production. »
Chinese citizens and Asian-Americans living in Florida warned lawmakers last spring that they would face discrimination and harassment if the bill passes. The Senate voted 31-8 to pass the bill and the House supported the bill by a vote of 95-17.
The new law labels seven nations a « foreign country of concern » — China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela — and limits property ownership for some residents of those countries.
Additionally, some Chinese nationals would be barred from buying more than two acres of land, and there are criminal penalties for property sellers who knowingly break the law.
The ACLU says the new law would place « an undue burden of suspicion » on anyone looking to buy a home as long as their « name sounds vaguely Asian. »
Four Chinese immigrants and Multi-Choice Realty, LLC are plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed in May and filed for an emergency preliminary injunction earlier this month to block implementation of the law. US District Judge Allen C. Winsor has scheduled a July 18 hearing on the motion.
The Justice Department in its court filing this week said the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case. The DOJ enforces the Fair Housing Act and has a strong interest in eradicating housing discrimination, the statement said.
The DOJ says the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on nationality and that nonimmigrant visa holders from the seven countries will be hardest hit by the new law.
And the department says further restrictions on land ownership near « critical » military installations and infrastructure will make much of Florida « essentially off-limits » to people based on their nationality.
« Florida has not yet identified any legitimate connection between the state’s protection and a ban on individuals who are merely from ‘foreign countries of interest,’ from buying or owning real estate, » the agency wrote.
The DOJ press office did not respond to or acknowledge an email with questions about the department’s role in the case. But Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the Biden administration’s involvement is significant.
“The DOJ has stepped in because the Florida law is patently unconstitutional and violates the Fair Housing Act,” Gorski said. “Their brief underlinings underline how egregious SB 264 is, and we look forward to taking that case to court on July 18.”