By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. Department of Justice is urging a federal judge to block a new Florida law that restricts people from China and six other countries from owning property in the state.
Justice Department attorneys Tuesday filed a 22-page “statement of interest” supporting a lawsuit and preliminary-injunction request filed by four Chinese people and a real-estate brokerage that serves Chinese clients.
The statement of interest said the law, approved this spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The law (SB 264) affects people from what Florida calls “foreign countries of concern” — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.
“These unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the state’s purported goal of increasing public safety,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote. “Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of these claims challenging the provisions of SB 264 that restrict and prohibit land ownership.”
The law, in part, targets Chinese people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.
It would prevent them from purchasing property in Florida, with some exceptions. For example, they each would be allowed to purchase one residential property up to two acres if the property is not within five miles of a military base and they have non-tourist visas.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have such things as work and student visas. One is seeking asylum in the United States, according to the lawsuit, which was filed May 22 and revised June 5.
The law also would prevent people from the seven “foreign countries of concern” from buying agricultural land and property near military bases. Those parts of the law would apply to people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor has scheduled a July 18 hearing on the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction. The law will take effect Saturday.
DeSantis, who is running for president in 2024, and other supporters of the law have pointed to a need to curb the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Florida.
“They have established a position of economic might, of industrial hegemony, and their military is far stronger today than it was 20 or 25 years ago,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing event last month in May. “They have a leader who’s very ideological and is intent on expanding CCP (Chinese Communist Party) influence, not just in their region but even around the globe.”
But the document filed Tuesday by the Justice Department said the plaintiffs in the case are not part of the Chinese government or members of the Chinese Communist Party. It said the law violates the Fair Housing Act and equal-protection rights because it is discriminatory.
“Florida has yet to identify any legitimate connection between protecting the state and prohibiting individuals who simply come from ‘foreign countries of concern’ from purchasing or owning real property,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.