A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he threatened to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities.
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump’s January 2017 executive order, cutting off federal funds to sanctuary cities, was unconstitutional. But the court also ruled that a lower court went too far when it blocked the order nationwide.
“Absent congressional authorization, the administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the majority.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the executive order was a legal use of the president’s power. He called the 9th Circuit’s decision a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”
“The Justice Department remains committed to the rule of law, to protecting public safety, and to keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” he said.
Trump signed the executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, just five days after taking office, calling undocumented immigration a “clear and present danger” to national security. But U.S. District Judge William Orrick called the threat “coercive” and said spending powers belonged to the legislative, not executive, branch of government.
President Donald Trump is hammering California for its sanctuary policies in his latest push to resist the “resistance” to his presidency. (May 15) AP
Orrick’s ruling was the result of lawsuits filed by two California counties – San Francisco and Santa Clara. His decision cited statements from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which indicated that the order could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. The government argued that the order only applied to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants that would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara and possibly no money for San Francisco.
Justice Department attorney Chad Readler told the 9th Circuit judges that the order was limited in scope and that public statements from Trump or other administration officials should not be given too much weight.
“When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday. “The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”
The administration’s fight against sanctuary cities also suffered a setback last week, when a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the city of Chicago’s lawsuit over Sessions’ efforts to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers.
In September, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber issued an injunction against Sessions’ order that required police to cooperate with federal agents or risk losing federal law enforcement grants. Session wanted to require local police to tell the government before releasing undocumented immigrants from custody, to allow federal immigration agents into city jails and to share people’s immigration status with federal officials.
Leinenweber’s injunction was initially nationwide, but in June the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restricted it to Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The full appeals court will decide whether or not that injunction should be nationwide in September.