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Federal judge hears arguments over Chinese property ownership limitations

Federal Judge Allen Winsor heard arguments on Tuesday in regard to a new state law that limits property ownership for people from China and six additional “nations of concern.”

The lawsuit, filed in May by Chinese residents in Florida and a real estate brokerage, argues that the measure will, in practice, institutionalize and broaden housing discrimination against Asian individuals, thereby violating both the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs also contended on Tuesday that the measure violates a right to equal protection under the law and codifies housing discrimination against people of Asian descent. Parties suing the state requested that Winsor enact an injunction, thereby halting the law’s enforcement.

“This law is unjustified, unfair, and unconstitutional,” said Ashley Gorski, a Senior Staff Attorney with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is partially representing the plaintiffs.

The state, meanwhile, attempted to prove the legislation’s constitutionality on the grounds that it upholds Florida’s “fundamental sovereign prerogative” to regulate the land within its own borders. The attorneys added that the state possesses a broad constitutional authority to regulate the acquisition of its own land and has not acted based on national origin or race.

“SB 264, the law at issue here, protects Florida’s very soil, particularly areas close to sensitive sites, from acquisition by “China and other hostile foreign nations” and their principals,” reads a filed memorandum.

In June, the United States Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in support of the lawsuit. In the statement, federal attorneys propounded that provisions within the legislation violate the Fair Housing Act, as well as the Equal Protection Clause within the U.S. Constitution.

“These 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,” reads the amicus statement.

On July 7, twelve attorneys general submitted an amicus brief, headed by Idaho AG Raúl R. Labrador in support of Florida’s legislation. AGs from Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah joined Labrador in the filing.

“[N]umerous countries also limit foreign ownership of land,” reads the document. “Florida and these other states and countries are not driven by ‘racial animus’ as the Plaintiffs charge. They are instead fulfilling their most basic state functions by exercising sovereignty over their soil.”

Florida House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell weighed in on the matter on Tuesday, stating that the Senate bill crosses the line from security to discrimination and should be thrown out by the courts.

“How can Governor DeSantis call this the ‘free state of Florida’ when he’s interfering with the rights of a community to buy a home here?” Said Driskell. “We cannot give in to this kind of fear, hate, or bigotry. The Chinese people are not the Chinese government, and we must reject the unjust and un-American idea that they should be subject to a separate set of rules than the rest of us.”

Though Winsor did not reach a decision on whether or not to grant the injunction, he reported that a ruling would be imminent.