By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Florida on Thursday declined to block the state’s law barring citizens of China and other “countries of concern” from owning homes or land in the state.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor in Tallahassee, Florida, said that because the ban is based on citizenship and not race or national origin, it likely does not violate the U.S. Constitution or a law banning housing discrimination.
Winsor, an appointee of Republican then-President Donald Trump, denied a bid by four Chinese nationals to block the law pending the outcome of their lawsuit filed in May.
Ashley Gorski, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the plaintiffs, said the group would appeal.
The Florida attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Florida’s law prohibits individuals who are “domiciled” in China and are not U.S. citizens or green card holders from purchasing buildings or land in the state.
It also bars most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea from owning property near military installations and infrastructure such as power plants and airports.
The law has a narrow exception, allowing holders of non-tourist visas from these countries to own a single property that is at least five miles (8 km) from critical infrastructure.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for U.S. president, said when he signed the law in May that it would help protect Americans from the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.
The ACLU claims the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process and the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits housing discrimination based on race and national origin.
The Biden administration filed a brief last month agreeing that the Florida law violates the FHA.
But Winsor on Thursday said because the law applies to anyone “domiciled” in China, it could apply to individuals who are not originally from China and therefore does not discriminate based on any protected traits.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi)