Federal appeals court blocks Trump’s attempt to withhold funding from ‘sanctuary cities’
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Federal appeals court blocks Trump’s attempt to withhold funding from ‘sanctuary cities’

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot condition federal law enforcement funds on conduct that contradicts municipalities’ policing ordinances.

In the court’s opinion, Judge Rovner clarified that “the issues before us today concern the spheres of power that reside in the state rather than in the federal government, and the critical balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government,” not immigration policy.

The city of Chicago challenged the Trump administration’s inclusion of several conditions on the Byrne JAG grants that are awarded annually to address the needs of state and local law enforcement. These grants are the primary source of federal criminal justice enforcement funding for state and local governments. For 2017 funding, the Trump administration added three conditions for the funding, requiring recipients to provide notice, access and compliance with certain federal immigration laws. For funding in 2018, the Trump administration added additional conditions including another compliance condition, a harboring condition and an additional certification addition. In all, the court found that “those conditions conflict with the Welcoming City Ordinance, which reflects Chicago’s determination that the cooperation of all persons, whether documented or undocumented, ‘is essential to achieve the City’s goals of protecting life and property, preventing crime and resolving problems.'”

The court found that the conflict between the local government’s policing ordinance and the federal government’s conditions raised federalism concerns. The court said, “Chicago, in deciding that its law enforcement needs would be better met if its undocumented residents could report crimes and communicate with its police force without fear of immigration consequences, is exercising its police power—an area of power long recognized as resting with the states.”

The court went on to address a second issue—the executive branch’s desire to use “extra-statutory conditions on federal grant awards as a tool to obtain compliance with [the executive branch’s] policy objectives.” The court found that the executive branch’s conduct was a violation of the separation of powers. “The authority to pass laws and the power of the purse rest in the legislative not the executive branch.” The court went on to find it important that the legislative branch had considered, but rejected, any laws that stipulated that similar conditions be placed on the funding.

The final issue the court decided was whether the court’s decision applies beyond the city of Chicago. The court found that the district court’s decision that the injunction applies broadly was correct. The appeals court affirmation granted injunctive relief nationwide now and in the future including delaying or denying the Byrne JAG awards for 2017, 2018, 2019, and into the future and on any materially similar conditions.

The appeals court decision is a win for sanctuary cities and immigration advocates nationwide, though it is unlikely that the case will stop here. The appeals court’s decision is set up nicely for a petition to the Supreme Court.