Law Prohibiting Chinese Nationals From Buying Real Property Being Challenged In Florida

Civil Rights Policy Brief #205 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | June 6, 2023
Photo taken from: therealdeal.com

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Policy Summary

On May 22, 2023 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation, the ACLU of Florida and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) along with a number of other entities filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuit alleges that the recent bill signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, SB 264, “imposes discriminatory prohibitions on the ownership and purchase of real property based on race, ethnicity, alienage and national origin – and imposes especially draconian restrictions on people from China.” The lawsuit seeks an order barring enforcement of the new law and a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional.

SB 264 bars most Chinese nationals and nationals of a number of other countries – Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Russia and North Korea – from purchasing homes in the state. A minor narrow exception would permit a foreign national of these countries who has a non – tourist visa or has been granted asylum to purchase no more than two acres as long as the residential lot is not within five miles of a military installation. Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 8 and the law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2023.

An “alien land law” is a law that is designed to exclude a class of people from owning or purchasing real property based on their ethnicity, race or country of origin. Some laws were enshrined in state constitutions or codified by the state’s legislature but most,  not all, have been rendered unconstitutional or repealed from the state codes. LEARN MORE

 

Policy Analysis

Florida’s passage of SB 264 is clearly against the historical and legal treatment of alien land laws and a ploy to merely appeal to right wing voters as Governor DeSantis begins his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

There is no doubt that on the surface SB 264 is aimed at foreign nationals in this country with a specific emphasis on Chinese persons. But at one time in this country alien land laws were once commonplace, if not the norm. As many as sixteen states in the early twentieth century had laws on the books that prohibited Asians from owning property. And it wasn’t just state law as Oregon and California had provisions in their state constitutions that prohibited Asians from purchasing property – Oregon’s clause stated no “Chinaman” could purchase real property while California’s constitution only allowed aliens of the white race or African descent to buy real property. What these laws contributed to was an environment of hostility, increasing violence towards Asian communities and an inability to secure financial and economic stability for many families of Asian descent. Governor DeSantis’ new bill excluding Chinese and other foreign nationals would lead to a repeat of this sordid chapter of American history and lead to an increase in hostilities against these communities again and, in effect, sanction discrimination against Asians and other foreign nationals in the Florida real property market.

While those reasons are more than enough to label SB 264 improper, the legal history of alien land laws likely points to the conclusion that the law is unconstitutional and raises the question as to why legislators in Florida or anyone in Governor DeSantis’ office did not know that. Alien land laws may have been commonplace in the first half of the twentieth century but courts and subsequent legislators soon began the work of making the laws unenforceable. In 1948, the United States Supreme Court decided Oyama v. California, which held that California’s bar on aliens owning property was a violation of the “rights and privileges” guarantee of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1952, the California Supreme Court decided in Sei Fuji v. California that the prohibition on aliens owning land was in violation of the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Soon, other states followed suit and began repealing their alien land laws in the 1950’s and in subsequent decades. It took much longer for some  other states as Kansas and New Mexico repealed their laws in the early 2000’s. Voters finally voted out the alien land law in Florida in 2018. The fact that Florida finally repealed their state’s land law in 2018 is disconcerting because it took a long time but also because the repeal of their law should have informed the Governor and his allies that writing a new law targeting Chinese foreign nationals to exclude them from property ownership would be against the law. Not only against Florida state law but also against the trend of alien land laws around the country being disfavored and in some cases being declared in violation of the U.S. Constitution. This law targeting Chinese persons is an abomination and should be declared unconstitutional because of what the law might unleash in terms of violence and hostility against Asian – American communities in Florida and because of its blatant discriminatory basis and unconstitutionality.

SB 264 has now been signed and is official state law so the future of the bill is now in the hands of the courts. It remains to be seen if the courts will heed history’s rejection of alien land laws or find the law another sad chapter in the Governor’s right wing culture war as he seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. LEARN MORE

 

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact rodwood@email.com.

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