DOJ says Florida law restricting foreign national real estate buys unconstitutional

Statement of interest filed in federal court says measure violates 14th amendment, federal law

Illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis
Illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (Getty)

The Department of Justice has weighed in on Florida’s controversial new law — which prohibits nearly all Chinese citizens and businesses based in China from purchasing real estate in the state — saying that it violates the constitution and federal law.

The DOJ said in a statement of interest filed in federal court in Florida that Senate Bill 264, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May and went into effect Saturday, violates the Fair Housing Act and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Politico reported.

DeSantis, who is running for the GOP nomination for president, touted the law earlier this year as a way to put Florida in the forefront of U.S. national security, with China posing a massive risk to the country.

“Our food security is also our national security,” DeSantis said at the bill signing event, Politico reported. “So we don’t want the CCP in charge of any of the food production.”

The DOJ, however, takes a different view.

“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 DOJ said in the statement of interest, the outlet reported. “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.”

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

It’s the latest salvo fired at DeSantis over the measure. In May, A group of Chinese citizens sued Florida officials over the law alleging it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that it violates the Fair Housing Act. 

The law also bans foreign investors from the other “countries of concern,” including Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Iran, Korea and Syria, from buying agricultural land in the state, as well as real estate within 10 miles of military and critical infrastructure facilities. 

The latter casts a wide range, and includes seaports, airports, chemical manufacturing facilities, electrical power plants, water treatment plants and gas plants. Anyone who knowingly sells such real estate to people or entities from those countries would be subject to punishment by the state. 

Over the past year, DeSantis has shown a willingness to tangle with the federal government and private companies in an effort to burnish his conservative bona fides.

He gained national attention with his ongoing — and possibly unconstitutionalfeud with Disney over the so-called Don’t Say Gay law that restricts the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

— Ted Glanzer