Federal court stops Trump administration attempt to punish ‘sanctuary cities’

Photo by Zak Neumann

On Monday, a federal judge in the Northern District of California issued a permanent injunction preventing the Trump administration from cutting off federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities.” The administration’s attempt to punish those cities with funding cuts is also the subject of a lawsuit the city of Chicago has filed against the U.S. Department of Justice. In August, Iowa City joined in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Chicago in that case.

President Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 25 stating the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security “shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with” administration policies on immigration enforcement “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

In his decision stopping the administration from enforcing that part of the executive order, Judge William Orrick wrote, “Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves.”

Unlike the California lawsuit, which challenged the constitutionality of the whole executive order, the Chicago case narrowly focuses on one particular federal law enforcement grant program, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005, the grant provides cities and counties with money to hire additional law enforcement personnel, as well as buy necessary equipment, supplies and services for local police departments. The city of Chicago argued that it would be illegal for the DOJ to withhold Byrne Grants from cities it designated as “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Iowa City, along with 41 other cities, counties and municipal organizations supported Chicago’s position in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Aug. 31.

“Congress purposefully made this grant very flexible,” Iowa City Assistant City Attorney Sue Dulek told Little Village after the brief was filed. “And one of the main arguments in the [friend-of-the-court] brief is the DOJ’s action is violating Congress’ intent in creating the program by imposing this new condition on it.”

Judge Orrick followed the same line of reasoning in his ruling: “The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds. Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive.”

In Monday’s decision, Judge Orrick found the entire section of the executive order authorizing the withholding of federal funds “is unconstitutional on its face.”

The Trump administration has not yet announced whether it will appeal the ruling.

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