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US Justice Department Challenges Another California Law

FILE - United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Dec. 15, 2017.

The U.S. Justice Department is challenging the constitutionality of another California law just weeks after suing the state over its so-called sanctuary laws.

The department on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court in California, seeking an injunction against the enforcement of a recently passed state law that effectively blocks the sale or transfer of federal lands in the country's third-largest state by area.

The law, enacted in October, gives the State Lands Commission a first right of refusal to the sale or lease of federal public lands in the state. Federal law gives the authority to federal agencies.

The law was part of a series of bills California lawmakers passed last year in a bid to preserve federal environmental regulations under state law and protect federal lands from being sold to oil companies.

In its complaint, the Justice Department contends that the law violates the U.S. Constitution's so-called Supremacy Clause and Property Clause. The Supremacy Clause makes federal law the law of the land; the Property Clause gives Congress the power to regulate the sale of federal lands.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department had no choice but to sue the state in order to ensure federal law enforcement.

"I regret the need to file yet another lawsuit against the state of California today," Sessions said in a statement.

Sanctuary laws

Last month, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to block three California laws that provide protections to undocumented immigrants. The department called the laws unconstitutional, saying they have kept federal law enforcement agents from doing their jobs.

Sessions complained that the lawsuits — along with defending against a California challenge to adding a question about citizenship to the national census — are draining Justice Department resources.

States'​ rights

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra defended the state's restrictions on federal land sales.

"#California's lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder," Becerra tweeted. "We're prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources and our values."

The Justice Department's lawsuit against California's sanctuary laws, while supported by many, has opened him up to criticism that he is acting counter to his own judicial philosophy.