A federal judge in Florida has rejected a request to block a law that restricts land ownership by Chinese citizens, which the Justice Department had deemed to be in violation of the Constitution.
Judge Allen Winsor ruled that the law, which has been in effect since July 1, can remain in force while the case is heard in court.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed SB 264 or Interests of Foreign Countries into law in May, barring people “domiciled” in China who don’t hold U.S. citizenship or permanent residency from owning property in Florida. It also restricts citizens of Russia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Syria – deemed as countries of “concern” – from purchasing property or agricultural land within 10 miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure facility. The exemptions are narrow, critics say, and the penalties are harsh.
The contentious law and the legal pushback come amid deteriorating ties between the United States and China on multiple fronts – including imports, the war in Ukraine, the future of Taiwan and even TikTok.
Florida will continue to fight against the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state, DeSantis said in a tweet hailing the order. DeSantis had pitched the law as a protection against China’s ruling party, describing it as the “greatest economic, strategic and security threat” to the United States.
But civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say the law is discriminatory against Asian immigrants and deploys “false claims of “national security.” The ACLU, part of a coalition that had filed for the injunction, said in a statement that it will appeal the decision.
In a June filing in support of the ACLU motion, the Justice Department told the court that the law’s “unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the State’s purported goal of increasing public safety.”
But in the Thursday order, Winsor ruled that the petitioners have not been able to prove their case will succeed on merit, one of the major factors in deciding an injunction. The judge noted that the plaintiffs were not able to demonstrate intent of discrimination based on race.
The challenge had been brought on behalf of four Chinese citizens living in Florida and a real estate firm servicing clients from China. The complaint cited similarities between the Florida law with California’s Alien Land Law enacted in 1913 that barred Asian immigrants from land ownership that was overturned by the Supreme Court decades later.
Similar bills targeting Chinese land ownership have been considered this year in several states, including Texas and Louisiana. Twenty-seven states were considering proposals that would ban or restrict foreign acquisitions of agricultural land, The Washington Post reported in April.