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Court overrules White House’s attempt to cut ‘sanctuary city’ funds

Appeals court upholds ruling in favor of city immigration laws

9th Circuit Court Of Appeals Rules Against Instating Trump’s Travel Ban
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of San Francisco and Santa Clara County on Wednesday in an ongoing lawsuit about immigration policies and the White House’s authority over federal grants.

In January of 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order attempting to withhold funds from sanctuary cities, whose policies of non-cooperation with immigration agencies the White House does not endorse.

SF and Santa Clara County responded with a joint lawsuit alleging that the policy violates the cities’ constitutional rights. City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote in Auguss 2017:

The funding restriction in the executive order violates the Constitution’s separation of powers principles, Spending Clause, and Tenth Amendment [...] which embodies the basic principle that the federal government cannot compel state or local governments to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.

The city estimated that the White House’s order threatened roughly $2 billion worth of funds, including budgets for infrastructure and homeless services.

This week the appeals court decided in San Francisco’s favor, saying in Wednesday’s opinion:

Under the principle of Separation of Powers and in consideration of the Spending Clause, which vests exclusive power to Congress to impose conditions on federal grants, the Executive Branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization.

Because Congress has not acted, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City and County of San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara.

The case came down to a 2-1 decision. The holdout judge, Ferdinand Fernandez, wrote in his dissenting opinion that he doesn’t think the counties have grounds to challenge the order in the first place:

The Executive Order itself is not directed toward the Counties at all; it is directed to Federal government officials only. If they obey its dictates, they will not overstep legal or constitutional boundaries. Nor have they threatened that they will knowingly do so.

But the panel’s majority favored the Bay Area plaintiffs despite these objections.

In response to the ruling, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement: “Congress has the power of the purse and the power to legislate. The president does not. No president can seize that power, like this one tried to do.”

Department of Justice spokesperson Devin O’Malley said the ruling is “a victory for criminal aliens in California.”

The majority opinion did do the White House one favor in vacating the lower court’s nationwide injunction against the order, deciding that the case had only presented enough evidence to decide what was appropriate in California.