U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Hazleton, Pa. anti-immigrant ordinances case

By Jon Campisi | Mar 4, 2014

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a case involving

anti-immigration ordinances in a northeastern Pennsylvania that would have barred landlords from renting housing to undocumented immigrants.

In addition to declining to hear the appeal in the Hazelton, Pa. case, the high court also decided against hearing a similar case out of Farmers Branch, Texas, that would have also denied housing to immigrants deemed “illegal aliens,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged both the Pennsylvania and Texas ordinances.

The Supreme Court’s decision leaves intact lower court rulings in the Third Circuit and Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeals respectively that found the ordinances to be unconstitutional.

This week’s decision by the justices to turn aside appeals of the Circuit Courts’ rulings was applauded by attorneys who challenged the local laws discriminating against those in the country illegally.

“The Hazleton and Farmers Branch anti-immigrant ordinances have repeatedly been found unconstitutional by federal trial and appeals courts,” Omar Jadwat, supervising attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “Now that these appeals are over, we look forward to Farmers Branch and Hazleton joining cities across the nation that are looking at ways to make their cities welcoming places for immigrants, rather [than] writing hostility and discrimination into municipal law.”

In the Pennsylvania case, the state chapter of the ACLU, the Community Justice Project and other civil rights lawyers challenged the anti-immigrant housing and employment ordinances on behalf of city residents, landlords and business owners since the first such local law was passed in the summer of 2006, according to the ACLU.

The ordinances would have barred individuals defined as “illegal aliens” from renting housing and would have punished Hazleton residents and businesses for engaging in commercial transactions with those who couldn’t prove they had federal work authorization, according to background information on the case.

A federal judge in Scranton ultimately struck down the ordinances as unconstitutional.

The city appealed the ruling, but the Third Circuit also sided with the plaintiffs in 2010.

Thomas Wilkinson, Jr., an attorney from the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor who was co-counsel on the Hazleton case, also praised the high court’s recent decision.

“The district court and Third Circuit properly concluded that Hazleton’s efforts to regulate immigration at the local level unduly interfered with a fundamental function of the federal government,” Wilkinson said in a statement. “The regulations also had the unfortunate byproduct of splintering the community and making lawful immigrants feel unwelcome.”

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