Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Roberson’s “Sanctuary Cities” Ballot Initiative Loses Challenge in District Court

This morning, a district court judge ruled against a ballot initiative championed by State Senator and Lt. Governor Candidate Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) to ban “sanctuary city” ordinances that limit local law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

How did this initiative come about?

Last session, Roberson charged hard against a bill introduced by Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) to limit law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal authorities throughout the state and protect immigrant communities from the Trump Administration’s more aggressive deportation agenda. That bill ultimately died without a vote. And last July, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officials met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reiterate their official policy of participating in the 287(g) program.

Even though Nevada currently has no formal state or municipal “sanctuary city” law, Roberson nonetheless filed an initiative petition last October to ban such “sanctuary city” policies. Less than one month later, the ACLU of Nevada filed suit, arguing that the language of the initiative is misleading. They also argued that this initiative would actually harm overall public safety, as it would give immigrant communities less reason to report crimes for fear that doing so would lead to their own deportation.

What happened in court?

This morning, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell heard arguments from both sides, then swiftly issued a ruling. Judge Russell pointed to the state’s “single subject rule” that restricts the scope of ballot initiatives in blocking further collection of signatures to get this initiative on the ballot.

According to ACLU of Nevada spokesperson Wesley Juhl, “[This ruling is] definitely positive. We’re ecstatic that the judge recognized the overly broad language of the initiative.” Juhl then added, “It would have a serious impact on many people. It was excessively broad and general.”

What comes next?

Roberson hasn’t officially filed an appeal yet, but told reporters in Carson City that he’d like to take the case to the Nevada Supreme Court. Even if he does appeal, Roberson and his campaign committee may still be restricted from collecting signatures. That could pose a major problem for them, as they have until June 19 to submit 112,543 valid signatures (or 10% of the total votes cast in the 2016 general election) to county election officials.

Juhl said the ACLU and other immigrant rights advocates are ready for whatever Roberson does next. “We’re going to take some time to celebrate this victory, but we won’t rest on our laurels. We’re going to keep fighting all the way.”

In the meantime, Juhl asked immigrant communities to remember their legal rights, and asked others in the community not to fear immigrants. “Really, we’re talking about families. Mothers and fathers and grandparents and children.”

This initiative is being debated in state courts as Congress tries to come to its own agreement on immigration reform, specifically the DREAM Act and TPS (or temporary protected status for select refugees) to restore legal status that the Trump Administration is winding down. President Donald Trump has also tried to force local authorities to enforce federal immigration law, but federal courts thus far have blocked enforcement of his executive order.

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