Federal Court In San Francisco Blocks Trump's Threat Against Sanctuary Cities

Apr 25, 2017
Originally published on April 25, 2017 10:43 pm

Updated 11:45 p.m. ET

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration cannot withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with immigration authorities, commonly known as sanctuary cities.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued his temporary ruling as a result of two lawsuits brought against the administration by the city of San Francisco and the county of Santa Clara. The jurisdictions had argued that billions of federal dollars that support vital services were in jeopardy when the administration threatened to cut all federal funds.

The White House press secretary released a statement calling the ruling "one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge." It said, "San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands."

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the administration will appeal the ruling. "The idea that an agency can't put in some reasonable restrictions on how some of these monies are spent is something that will be overturned eventually," he said, adding, "It's the 9th Circuit going bananas."

Orrick does not sit on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But any appeal of his ruling would be heard by that court.

Trump had made his threat against sanctuary cities a keystone promise of his presidential campaign. Just last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions underscored that threat by warning eight jurisdictions that they ran the risk of losing federal funds if they didn't help enforce federal immigration law.

But the scope of that threat has been in dispute.

In a recent court hearing, attorneys for Santa Clara and San Francisco clashed with a Justice Department lawyer who argued that the lawsuit against the administration was premature because no enforcement action has been taken.

Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the funding cutoff threat pertained only to money granted by the Justice Department and Homeland Security.

But Orrick sided with the jurisdictions, which argued that the administration has clearly targeted all federal funding. 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."

In a statement, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "This is why we have courts — to halt the overreach of a president and an attorney general who either don't understand the Constitution or chose to ignore it."

A spokesman for the Justice Department said the ruling does not prevent the administration from enforcing conditions on some grants related to immigration matters.

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