Florida Record: Federal appeals court weighing Florida law banning Chinese citizens from owning property

Image for Florida Record: Federal appeals court weighing Florida law banning Chinese citizens from owning property
Credit: Julia Johnson/AALDEF

By Michael Carroll

A federal appeals court appeared somewhat conflicted last week as judges heard oral arguments over the legality of a Florida law that bars Chinese citizens from buying homes in many parts of the state.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals listened to presentations on April 19 by ACLU attorney Ashley Gorski on behalf of the plaintiffs and Senior Deputy Solicitor General Nathan Forrester on behalf of the defendants, including the Florida commissioner of agriculture.

The communications director for state Attorney General Ashley Moody, Kylie Mason, expressed confidence that the 2023 law would be upheld.

“Florida has broad constitutional authority to regulate the acquisition of land within its boundaries, and we will continue to defend the statute,” Mason said in an email to the Florida Record.

The law, Senate Bill 264, prohibits the government of China, its Communist Party, Chinese political party members, and those domiciled in China but who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents from buying or acquiring an interest in real property in Florida, according to the Legislature’s analysis of the bill.

In February, the 11th Circuit granted an injunction to two of the plaintiffs, who are Chinese immigrants, that bars state officials from enforcing SB 264, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

During the oral arguments, one circuit judge indicated that national security issues are in the purview of the president rather than state lawmakers, according to a report from Reuters, while another justice questioned whether several of the plaintiffs had standing to bring the case.

In a news release, the ACLU pointed out that in February the appeals court found the plaintiffs had a likelihood of prevailing on their arguments since Congress has created a national security mechanism to review foreign nationals’ property purchases.

Based on the provisions of the law, less restrictive property ownership rules would also apply to immigrants from other U.S. adversaries, including Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, the Russian Federation and Syria. But the law singles out Chinese nationals for the toughest penalties, including a five-year prison sentence for the person attempting to purchase a home in Florida, according to the ACLU.

“By putting huge parts of the state off-limits to people who simply want to buy a home, this law expands discrimination against people of Asian descent,” Patrick Toomey, deputy director of ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a prepared statement prior to the oral arguments. “Discriminatory housing practices have long shaped who has access to quality education, health care, security, opportunity and wealth, and this law is no different. We look forward to explaining to the court of appeals why this unconstitutional law must be halted.”

Bethany Li, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the law would have collateral effects on Asian Americans as well.

“This law targets Chinese people in clear violation of the Constitution, and its chilling effect reaches even further, hurting all Asian Americans who call this country home,” Li said.

Appeals court arguments filed last year on behalf of Florida officials contend that SB 264 falls within the state’s authority to regulate land purchases, that its provisions are not based on race or national origin, and that the law mitigates the influence of “pernicious foreign governments.”


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