U.S. Supreme Court Won't Review Farmers Branch Immigration Rental Ordinance | KERA News

U.S. Supreme Court Won't Review Farmers Branch Immigration Rental Ordinance

Mar 3, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning denied an appeal to review the Farmers Branch immigration rental ordinance that would have forced renters to prove they were in the country legally in order to live in the city.

The decision likely marks the end of an eight-year legal battle in which the city has spent millions of dollars in legal fees.

In 2006, the city started discussing the ordinance. In 2007, voters approved the ordinance in a nonbinding referendum.

The ordinance was challenged and there have been several years of appeals.

Last summer, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans voted 9 to 6 to reject the Farmers Branch ordinance. Judges called it unconstitutional because they say only the federal government has authority over immigration policy.

The Storefront, an affiliate of the Bickel & Brewer law firm, has worked to oppose  several versions of the ordinance since 2006. Lawyers were pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision. 

"It was very satisfying," said Jim Renard, a partner with the firm. "And it marks the end of what I hope is an effort on the part of the city to continue to attempt and go back to the drawing board to pass these kinds of regulations."

Renard said the court's decision is significant.

"I think the signal it sends to other municipalities and even states considering such measures -- regulating, attempting to regulate immigration or even the demographic composition of a community by imposing immigration-related restrictions on the right to obtain housing are going to fall by the wayside," Renard said.

The justices on Monday also declined to take up an appeal from the city of Hazleton, Pa., regarding its ordinance that also sought to keep people who are in the country illegally from finding housing.
 
The Supreme Court held in 2012 that immigration is primarily a matter for the federal government, ruling out most local and state laws targeting illegal immigration. The Hazleton case also involved an ordinance that would have denied permits to businesses that hired people who are in the U.S. illegally.

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy wasn't happy with the court's decision. He's not sure if the fight is over.

"I'm disappointed," Glancy told KERA. "I felt that it was legitimate action on the part of the city to try to enforce federal laws. We weren't trying to make their laws. It was just trying to enforce existing laws."

Glancy supports reforms to allow some legal immigrants and some of those living here illegally grants to become U.S. citizens. He said the city's been persistent on the issue because lawmakers haven't taken any action toward immigration reform.

"I'm tired of the people just talking about the rhetoric of illegal immigration and never having solutions to it," he said.

Glancy also said that he wants Farmers Branch to remain an appealing place for people of diverse backgrounds and doesn't think these cases have hurt the city.

"The housing market is very tight. Business growth has been very good, very strong over the last few years. Our crime is down," Glancy said. "A lot of things that people look to as a place where they want to live have been enacted. Whether it's part of that ordinance or not, I don't know."

KERA reported last summer on reaction to the Court of Appeals’ ruling, and talked with Glancy:

That may not slow Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy, even as legal fees have risen to $6 million and climbing.  

“If you believe something’s morally right, do you put a dollar sense on it?”

Glancy criticizes courts that have repeatedly found the city’s renters’ ordinances unconstitutional.

“I don’t think at this point we know enough about it to even make a decision about whether there should be an appeal or not.”

Glancy says two-thirds of Farmers Branch residents approved the ordinance years ago and he stands by the will of the people. And while some have criticized the ordinances in a town that’s nearly 50 percent Hispanic, he says some crimes are, arguably, down, while the economy’s up. He says the ordinance brought positives.

“I can’t equate that what has happened has been negative to that effect. Maybe some people didn’t’ come here because of that, but maybe a lot of them did come here before that.”

Ryan Poppe with Texas Public Radio in San Antonio reports on reaction to Monday’s ruling:

Since its passage, civil rights groups like the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund have taken issue that the ordinance was designed to keep immigrants in the country illegally from renting apartments and homes in Farmers Branch.  MALDEF’s Nina Perales was one of the lead attorneys against the ordinance and says it damaged the city from inside-out.

“The problems created by the ordinance were much bigger than the immigrant community and many people in the town were Latina, some were immigrant, some were not but when the tensions rose around this ordinance it was affecting everybody,” Perales said.

Terri Burke with the ACLU of Texas said: “They rewrote their ordinance, they’d pass a new one. We’d go back to court. They kept losing. I hope for goodness the people of Farmers Branch will get on with recognizing the contribution of all their residents of their city.”

We’ll update this post throughout the day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.