The cities of Seattle, New York and Portland, Oregon, filed a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump Thursday, challenging his efforts to withhold federal funding from those cities for having permitted “anarchy, violence and destruction” as alleged in a Presidential Memorandum issued in early September following a wave of protests and civic disturbances largely animated by concerns over racial justice and police brutality.
The plaintiffs argue that the withholding of federal funds is “a blatant violation of the separation of powers” because the Power of the Purse belongs to Congress, not the President. They also argue that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedure Act through arbitrary and capricious agency action because the criteria to label a jurisdiction as anarchist are not based in any statutory language and such criteria are “vague, undefined, [and] nebulous.” The plaintiff cities also assert that the Memorandum violated the Spending Clause as it seeks to “impose new, retroactive funding restrictions based on ambiguous criteria,” impose conditions that “are not germane to the purpose of any federal grant program” and “seek to induce cities to act unconstitutionally by discriminating based on viewpoint in responding to protests.”
Speaking in support of the suit, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said:
The Trump administration’s political threats against Seattle and other Democratic cities are unlawful and an abuse of federal power. I am confident the Courts will reign him in again. Seattle and people across America need help fighting a pandemic that has claimed over 22,000 American lives, fixing an economic crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of American unemployed, and bringing America together during this civil rights reckoning. Instead, the President chooses to ignore science, divide Americans, and threaten the lifeline for many struggling in this time. It’s immoral, unconstitutional, and shameful that we are forced to expend any resources on this political theater.
Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio said that “while we have been laser-focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the President is using his budget office to play politics and distract from his own failures as Commander-in-Chief. We are confident the court will agree that the President’s attempt to withhold funds is without merit.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler added:
The President signaled out three progressive cities—Portland, Seattle and New York City—and threatened federal support critical to protecting vulnerable residents. These threats include restricting federal funds for coronavirus relief, funds for HIV treatment, and funds for newborn screenings. That’s why Portland, Seattle and New York will fight this illegal designation to preserve federal investments designed to help our most vulnerable residents.
The plaintiffs are seeking to stop federal departments and agencies from taking further steps to carry out the Memorandum and are seeking injunctive relief to ensure that those departments and agencies comply with Constitutional and federal law.