Trump administration sues California over federal land sales
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against California over a state law giving it the power to override the sale of federal lands, the department announced Monday.
The suit marks the latest battle between President Trump and the nation's most populous state, where Democrats have tried aggressively to thwart the president's agenda. Last month, Sessions visited Sacramento to announce he was suing California over laws that restrict cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Under the law, which was passed in September, California has the first right to purchase federal lands or to arrange for a specific buyer. Lawmakers had expressed concerns that the Trump administration would allow more logging, oil drilling or development.
The Justice Department says California's law, which took effect Jan. 1, is delaying land sales -- even for projects that have been in the works for years -- and is depressing their value. The auction of 1.7 acres owned by the U.S. Postal Service was suspended when nobody bid, and a developer looking to purchase property at the now-closed Naval Air Station Alameda has requested a delay, the lawsuit contends.
"The Constitution empowers the federal government—not state legislatures—to decide when and how federal lands are sold," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land. And yet, once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy."
In a second statement later Monday, Sessions decried the mounting litigation between the Justice Department, California and other states asking judges to invalidate pieces of the Trump agenda. He blasted "ideological judging" and "limitless injunctions" that he says allow just one judge to tie up the administration's policies.
"Government-by-litigation isn't what the American people voted for and attempting to thwart an administration's elected agenda through endless, meritless lawsuits is a dangerous precedent," Sessions said.
At the request of attorneys general in mostly Democratic states, judges have temporarily blocked Trump's decision to end a program protecting some immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation, withhold law enforcement grants from so-called sanctuary cities and ban transgender troops from the military.
The lawsuit also cites the sale of Army property east of San Francisco, which the state declined to purchase. The State Lands Commission has requested information about a planned property sale in Santa Barbara County to decide whether to buy first, according to the lawsuit.
"Yet again, Donald Trump and his administration are attacking our state and our very way of life," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a member of the State Lands Commission and a Democrat running for governor, said in a statement.
California Democrats welcomed the latest fight and vowed to defend the law.
"Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement. "We're prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources and our values."
Fox News' Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.