South China Morning Post: Florida law barring Chinese citizens from owning property in state blocked by US court
- Federal panel rules ‘this prohibition blatantly violates the 14th Amendment’s protection against discrimination’ in blow to Governor Ron DeSantis
- Statute’s language and statements by public officials showed law to be a ‘blanket ban against Chinese non-citizens’, says court
By Igor Patrick
An American federal appeal court on Thursday suspended enforcement of a Florida law banning Chinese citizens from owning homes and land in the state.
The Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the law, SB 264, which Florida enacted last year, specifically targets people of Chinese descent.
The court’s decision relied on statements made by Governor Ron DeSantis and other public officials in the state at the time the legislation was passed.
DeSantis described the law as a measure to “counteract the malignant influence of the Chinese Communist Party”. It bars non-citizens whose “domicile” is in China from owning property in Florida, regardless of location.
The law also stipulates that most citizens of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela could not own property near US military installations and infrastructure such as power plants and airports. Violators were subject to prosecution.
The appeal court on Friday said the Florida governor’s office issued a press release when the law was passed saying the state was “following through on [its] commitment to crack down on Communist China”.
The ruling also cited posts by DeSantis on X (formerly Twitter) in which the Republican pledged that “Florida will continue to fight against [the] CCP’s influence in our state”.
Neither DeSantis nor Ashley Moody, Florida’s attorney general, could be reached immediately for comment on the ruling.
Plaintiffs Yifan Shen and Zhiming Xu argued Florida’s law violated their rights to equal protection and due process under the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from “depriving any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law”.
The court agreed.
“The statute’s language, the anti-Chinese statements from Florida’s public officials and SB 264’s impact establish that the law is a blanket ban against Chinese non-citizens from purchasing land within the state,” according to Friday’s ruling.
“This prohibition blatantly violates the 14th Amendment’s protection against discrimination.”
The preliminary injunction will apply to the two individual plaintiffs challenging the law because “their recent and pending transactions create the most imminent risk of irreparable harm in the absence of a stay”, the court said.
The motion for a preliminary injunction was denied.
Bethany Li, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs, said Florida’s ban violated the US Constitution by targeting Chinese citizens.
The ruling “should serve as a warning to other states who are considering passing similarly racist bills, steeped in a history when Asians were ineligible for citizenship and were told they didn’t belong”, said Li.
Legislators in several states led by Republicans, including Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, are contemplating similar limitations on property ownership by Chinese citizens. China criticised the measure in February last year.
“Generalising the concept of national security and politicising economic, trade and investment issues violates the rules of [a] market economy and international trade rules,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning at the time.