TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Thursday rejected attempts, including from the Biden administration, to block a new law touted by state Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis that prohibits some Chinese citizens from buying land in Florida.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, shot down the request from four Chinese immigrants and a real-estate firm to place a preliminary injunction on the law while the case moved through the court.
Winsor said those challenging the new law have not demonstrated that they could win the case, a key factor in determining whether to block a law ahead of a full-blown trial. He also contended that the legal challenge has not shown that the Republican-controlled Legislature was intentionally discriminating against Chinese individuals when it passed the restrictions.
“Plaintiffs have not shown a substantial likelihood that unlawful animus motivated the Legislature,” Winsor wrote in his 51-page decision.
The judge added that the law was written in such a way that “it would apply to a person of Chinese descent domiciled in China the same way it would apply to a person not of Chinese descent domiciled in China. And its application would never turn on a person’s race.”
DeSantis and Republican Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said earlier this year the new law — which includes restrictions on land near military bases, critical infrastructure and agricultural lands — was needed to protect Florida’s farmland and food supply from the Chinese Communist Party.
At the time he signed the legislation into law, DeSantis called the Chinese Communist Party “the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat.” And during his presidential campaign, DeSantis has repeatedly warned about the China, with part of his platform including a ban on selling farmland to Chinese Communist Party members and their affiliates.
At least three other states, including Texas and Louisiana, considered similar laws this year.
The Department of Justice in late June weighed in and contended the new law violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution. “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 department charged in a “statement of interest.”
The people and the groups that challenged the law — which they called “racist” — said they intend to appeal Winsor’s ruling.
“This law is hurting immigrants who are trying to build lives in Florida,” said Jian Song, owner of Multi-Choice Realty LLC and one of those suing, in a statement. “As a Chinese American who has called Orlando my home for over 20 years, I’ve been extremely worried since this law went into effect.”
Chinese citizens and Asian-Americans living in Florida warned legislators last spring that they would face discrimination and harassment if the bill passed. Lawmakers passed the legislation overwhelmingly on a bipartisan vote in both the House and Senate.
The new law lists several countries as a “foreign country of concern” including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela — and restricts property ownership for some residents from those countries. In addition, some Chinese citizens would be prohibited from purchasing more than two acres of land, and there are misdemeanor criminal penalties for property sellers who knowingly violate the law.
“In our view, which the U.S. Government has supported as an amicus, people from China should be no less welcome in Florida than they are elsewhere in the United States and free to participate in the housing market on equal footing with everyone else,” said Derek Shaffer, a partner at Quinn Emanuel, which is helping represent those who sued.