City Attorney Dennis Herrera talks about a federal judge's order.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera talks about a federal judge's order. Eric Risberg/AP

A federal court blocks Trump’s January executive order seeking to punish jurisdictions that divorce local policing from federal immigration enforcement.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in California blocked President Donald Trump’s January executive order seeking to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities—jurisdictions that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in some way. In essence, U.S. District Judge William Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the executive order is overly broad and constitutionally fraught.

“The bottom line is that the federal court has dealt a major setback to President Trump's attacks on sanctuary cities,” says César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an associate professor at University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “I imagine that the federal government will appeal, but, for now, the Trump Administration cannot go forward with its hope of punishing cities and counties for limiting their cooperation with ICE.”

The Trump order was based on a statute (U.S. Code 1373) that forbids local governments from withholding information about immigration status of an individual from federal authorities. Promptly after he signed it, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit, arguing, among other things, that the 10th Amendment limits the power of the federal government to “commandeer” states and localities—a claim backed up by many legal experts. California’s Santa Clara County followed.

Judge Orrick’s decision affirms the local governments’ case that the Trump’s order amounts to a loaded gun pointed at the head of local governments. It “threatens to deny sanctuary jurisdictions all federal grants, hundreds of millions of dollars on which the Counties rely,” the decision reads. “The threat is unconstitutionally coercive.” The ruling also questions the extent of the president’s control on the federal purse strings: “The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds,” the court decision reads.

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made many public pronouncements about punishing sanctuary cities by stripping billions of dollars in federal funding, but during the hearings, the administration’s lawyers tried to sell the judge on a narrower interpretation. They argued that it would only apply only to a limited number of Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice grants. Judge Orrick didn’t buy it. The lawyers’ reading “renders the Order toothless,” he writes in the ruling, and is quite different from the language Trump signed off on. Peter Mancina, an immigration scholar at Vanderbilt University, explains that distinction further on Twitter:

The court ruling comes days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out letters to nine cities, asking for proof on their compliance with U.S.C. 1373. One of San Francisco’s arguments was that this statute itself is unconstitutional, but the judge didn’t address that specifically. What it did say was that, while the federal government can technically pull funds, they can’t do it in the slapdash way put forth in the order, at the whim of the president. George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin explains in The Washington Post:

In this case, none of the federal grants given to sanctuary cities were conditioned by Congress on compliance with Section 1373 or any other form of cooperation with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. The president cannot impose such conditions on his own.

This order, and the one banning the entry of people from seven Muslim majority countries and suspending the entry of refugees, share a key feature: They’re both unable to veil the administration’s legally dubious intentions in court. That’s why, for local governments opposing Trump on immigration, Trump's first 100 days have amounted to a series of victories. And per Judge Orrick's reading, their case is good enough that they're likely to retain that winning streak.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. Equity

    What Happened to Crime in Camden?

    Often ranked as one of the deadliest cities in America, Camden, New Jersey, ended 2017 with its lowest homicide rate since the 1980s.

  3. A mural on the side of a building shows a man standing in a city street.
    Life

    The Polarizing Mayor Who Embodied ‘Blue-Collar Conservatism’

    Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s mayor from 1972 to 1980, appealed to “law and order” and white working-class identity—a sign of politics to come, says the author of a new book.

  4. photo: People embrace after a tanker truck drove into protesters on the I-35W bridge on May 31 in Minneapolis.
    Equity

    Why Are Protesters Getting Run Over?

    Drivers have repeatedly targeted George Floyd demonstrations with vehicle ramming attacks — a lethal terror tactic fueled in part by far-right memes.

  5. A Seoul Metro employee, second left, monitors passengers, to ensure face masks are worn, on a platform inside a subway station in Seoul, South Korea.
    Transportation

    How to Safely Travel on Mass Transit During Coronavirus

    To stay protected from Covid-19 on buses, trains and planes, experts say to focus more on distance from fellow passengers than air ventilation or surfaces.

×