The Epoch Times: Federal Appeals Court Halts Florida Ban on Property Buying by Chinese

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Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Cara Irish Pub & Restaurant in Dover, N.H., on Jan. 19, 2024. Credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

By Tom Ozimek

A federal appeals court has issued a limited temporary block on a Florida law that bans citizens of China from buying property in the state that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said was needed to counteract the “malign influence” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in his state.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order on Feb. 1 that temporarily halts enforcement of a law called SB 264, or the Interests of Foreign Countries Act, with respect to two out of five plaintiffs who sued Florida over the law, claiming unconstitutional discrimination.SB 264 was signed by Mr. DeSantis on May 8, 2023, and it was almost immediately challenged in court by four Chinese citizens residing in Florida and a real estate brokerage firm primarily serving Chinese and Chinese American clients.

The appeals court has halted enforcement of the law with respect to two of the five plaintiffs until it rules on the merits of the case (oral arguments scheduled for April), with the judges arguing that because of recent and pending transactions, the two plaintiffs face “imminent risk of irreparable harm” if enforcement of the law isn’t paused.

The temporary limited freeze of SB 264 was met with a critical response from Mr. DeSantis’s office.

“We disagree with the 11th Circuit’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction pending appeal to two of the plaintiffs in this case,” Julia Friedland, deputy press secretary for the Florida governor’s office, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

“That being said, our law is still very much in effect, we are confident in our legal position on the merits, and we will continue to fight back against foreign malign influence in Florida,” she added.

By contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is one of several groups representing the Chinese nationals in their legal action, praised the decision.

“There’s no doubt that Florida’s discriminatory housing law is unconstitutional,” Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “The court’s decision brings two of our clients tremendous relief, and we will continue fighting to prevent this law from being enforced more broadly.”

The 11th Circuit appeals court decision comes after a Florida district court ruled against the plaintiffs’ request to block the law.

What’s in the Law?

Under the Interests of Foreign Countries Act, any individual who is domiciled in China and who is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States is banned from directly or indirectly buying property or having a controlling interest in property in Florida.

The legislation also prohibits citizens from a “foreign country of concern” from owning property within 10 miles of military installations or critical infrastructure in Florida. Besides China, the foreign countries of concern listed in the bill are Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela.

“Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat—the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference at the time of signing SB 264, along with two other measures: one that prevents sensitive digital data from being stored in China and the other to stop CCP influence in Florida’s education system.

“We are following through on our commitment to crackdown on communist China,” he added.

SB 264 makes exceptions for individuals with non-tourist visas or who’ve been granted asylum. Such individuals would be allowed to buy parcels of land up to two acres in size providing that they’re not within 5 miles of military installations.

Military installations are described as “a base, camp, post, station, yard, or center encompassing at least 10 contiguous acres that are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense or its affiliates.”

The bill states that individuals impacted by the measure may continue to hold their land if they purchased it before July 1, 2023, but will need to register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by Jan. 1, 2024.

Violators of the measure may face criminal penalties, including a charge of up to $1,000 for each day that the registration is late.

The Lawsuit

The property purchase ban was challenged in court by a group of Chinese citizens and a real estate brokerage firm, who sued the state of Florida on May 22, 2023, arguing in their complaint that 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 was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance.

The plaintiffs argued in their complaint that the law is unconstitutional.

“It violates the equal protection and due process guarantees under the U.S. Constitution; it intrudes on the federal government’s power to superintend foreign affairs, foreign investment, and national security; and it recalls the wrongful animus of similar state laws from decades past—laws that were eventually struck down by courts or repealed by legislatures,” the complaint reads.

They also argued that SB 264 violates the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions.

Mr. DeSantis has repeatedly said that laws such as SB 264 are justified on national security grounds, arguing the CCP has been active spreading its “malign” influence throughout the Western hemisphere, including by buying up land and making various types of investments.

The ACLU has claimed that such laws are based on “false claims” about national security.


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Also published by: NTD