I have an uneasy feeling about this.
Farmers Branch was sued four years ago after it passed an ordinance allowing the city building inspector to evict any illegal immigrant renters. Its case will now go before the full membership of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with 10 judges appointed by Republican presidents and just five by Democrats.
So far, no court has allowed Farmers Branch to enforce any form of the ordinance. But the appeals court’s rare move to hear the case a second time, months after a different three-judge panel ruled against Farmers Branch, could be a sign that the town might finally get a victory.
The current ordinance, which replaced an earlier 2006 version, would require all renters to obtain a $5 city license and fill out an application that asks about their legal status. Then, the city’s building inspector would have to check whether any immigrant applying for a license was in the United States legally. Illegal immigrants would be denied a permit, and landlords who knowingly allow illegal immigrants to stay as tenants could be fined or have their renters’ license barred.
The appeals court has directed all sides to focus on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling on Arizona’s tough immigration law. That ruling rejected major parts of the law, but upheld the so-called “show me your papers” requirement, which gives law enforcement authority to check a person’s legal status if officers have reasonable suspicion he or she is in the U.S. illegally.
See here for more on that original Fifth Circuit ruling, and here for plenty of Farmers Branch-related blogging. A federal appeals court in Pennsylvania has heard a similar appeal from the town of Hazelton, which is the Keystone State’s version of Farmers Branch, but it hasn’t ruled yet. The Fifth Circuit could set a precedent for other appeals courts to follow, and given how awful some of its recent rulings have been. that’s an ominous prospect. We’ll see how it goes.