Last week, Judge William Orrick, a federal district judge for Northern California, permanently blocked President Trump’s executive order cutting federal funds to sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. In his ruling, the judge writes that the executive order violates the US Constitution’s principles of federalism and separation of powers. This decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by the city and county of San Francisco and Santa Clara County challenging the executive order issued in January this year that aimed to cut federal funding for cities which did not comply with a statute that prohibits state and local governments from refusing to relay information about the immigration status of those in their jurisdiction to federal immigration authorities. In his decision, Judge Orrick states: “The Counties have demonstrated that the Executive Order has caused and will cause them constitutional injuries by violating the separation of powers doctrine and depriving them of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights.”
Judge Orrick previously placed a temporary injunction against the executive order’s implementation this past April 2017 for the same constitutional violations. In both instances, he reasoned that the Constitution gives Congress spending power, not the president. In his most recent ruling, Judge Orrick states:
The Constitution vests the spending power in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds. Furthermore, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive. 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.
As attorney and law professor Ilya Somin notes in the Washington Post, if President Trump were able to impose conditions on federal funding for sanctuary cities, he would then be able to impose conditions on other federal funding programs. He explains: “This would give presidents a massive club to coerce state and local governments on a wide range of issues….Some conservatives may cheer when the current administration uses this tool against sanctuary cities. But they are likely to regret their enthusiasm if a liberal Democratic president uses the same tactic to force states to increase gun control, adopt a ‘common core’ curriculum, or pursue liberal policies on transgender bathroom accommodations.”
During the hearing that occurred in April before Judge Orrick, an attorney for the Department of Justice (DOJ) argued that the executive order signed by President Trump would only affect a limited number of federal grants. For Santa Clara, the attorney argued, it would affect less than one million dollars, and for San Francisco County potentially no funds. In his most recent ruling, however, Judge Orrick disagrees saying that the order’s language was too broad and could thus possibly affect all federal grants, translating to hundreds of millions of dollars to both Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties. The judge cites statements made by both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump that show it was their intention to target a wide scope of federal funding. He also notes that President Trump had specifically called it a “weapon” against non-compliant cities.
In response to Judge Orrick’s most recent decision, Devin O’Malley, a DOJ spokesman, states that the "district court exceeded its authority today when it barred the president from instructing his cabinet members to enforce existing law. The Justice Department will vindicate the president’s lawful authority to direct the executive branch.” The Trump administration has argued that state and local governments threaten public safety when they refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for crimes; however, immigration advocates believe that anti-sanctuary city policies undermine community cooperation and faith in local police and government authorities, particularly with immigrant communities. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who brought the suit against the Trump administration over the executive order, says that the ruling last week is “a victory for the American people and the rule of law.” Herrera goes on: “President Trump might be able to tweet whatever comes to mind, but he can’t grant himself new authority because he feels like it.”