Federal appeals court halts enforcement of Florida law targeting Chinese real estate buyers

Judge Nancy Abudu says that the law constitutes a "blanket ban" on Chinese nationals

Appeals Court Halts Florida law Aimed at Chinese Property Buyers
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

A federal appeals court has halted the enforcement of a controversial Florida law that restricts Chinese citizens from buying land, siding with two Chinese immigrant plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the plaintiffs demonstrated a “substantial likelihood of success” in proving that the law, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, violates protections against discrimination, Politico reported.

“I banned China from buying land in the state of Florida,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the Republican presidential debate in December. 

The legislation banned nearly all property purchases by Chinese nationals and China-based companies.

It also restricted real estate investment by anyone associated with Venezuela, Russia, Iran and other countries, and forbade the use of Chinese capital to fund projects in the state.

But Judge Nancy Abudu, a Biden-appointed former civil rights lawyer, stated that the law constitutes a “blanket ban” on Chinese non-citizens purchasing land, violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection against discrimination.

While the appeals court didn’t fully block the law, it granted an injunction for the two plaintiffs, citing the imminent risk of irreparable harm to their home-buying contracts. Governor DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, criticized the Biden administration for supporting the plaintiffs and reiterated his stance against “foreign malign influence.”

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The governor’s office disagreed with the injunction but affirmed confidence in the law’s legal position and commitment to combating foreign influence. Conversely, the ACLU praised the court’s decision, emphasizing the law’s unconstitutionality and its relief for the plaintiffs.

The law, known as FL SB264 (23R), limits land ownership for Chinese nationals domiciled in China and not lawful U.S. residents, with additional restrictions on agricultural land ownership for individuals from seven countries deemed hostile.

Several other states had considered similar measures, but Florida’s law faced legal challenges. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement asserting the law’s violation of federal law and the Constitution, emphasizing its harm based on national origin.

Previously, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled against the plaintiffs, finding no intentional discrimination by the Legislature. 

However, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s legal director, Bethany Li, called the law a clear violation of the Equal Protection clause, warning against racist legislation that harkens back to a discriminatory past.

— Ted Glanzer