US sues California over law trying to curb federal land sales

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, April 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department sued California over a state law that aims to stop the Trump administration from selling or transferring federal lands to private corporations, hitting the state with yet another legal challenge.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Monday in Sacramento, the state capital, comes less than a month after the Justice Department brought a legal action targeting three California laws largely aimed at protecting illegal immigrants from deportation.

"California has once again passed an extreme statute found in no other state to obstruct the federal government, this time by interfering with the conveyance of federal land," the Justice Department's acting No. 3 official, Jesse Panuccio, told reporters.

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that his office is prepared to protect the state's resources.

"Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder," Becerra said.

Governor Jerry Brown accused the Trump administration last month of declaring war on the most populous U.S. state after the Justice Department sued over the California immigration laws. A hearing in that case is set for June.

The latest legal action involves California's Senate Bill 50, which was signed into law in October and gives the state right of first refusal over many federal land conveyances.

If the California State Lands Commission waives its right of first refusal, it issues a compliance certificate. Without this document, the land transfer cannot be legally recorded in a county property office.

The Justice Department in its lawsuit argues that Senate Bill 50 is preempted by federal law. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco Editing by Leslie Adler and Steve Orlofsky)