Justice Department decries, local governments praise sanctuary cities ruling

A federal appeals court upheld an injunction Aug. 1 protecting San Francisco and Santa Clara County from a presidential executive order that threatened to withhold federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said by a 2-1 vote that the 2017 order by President Donald Trump was unconstitutional because it intruded on Congress’s power to determine federal spending.
Chief Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas wrote, “The United States Constitution exclusively grants the power of the purse to Congress, not the president …
“There is no reasonable argument that the president has not exceeded his authority,” the court majority said.
Trump issued the order on Jan. 25, 2017, five days after his inauguration. It said that cities and counties that allegedly illegally shield undocumented immigrants were not eligible for federal funding.
The court upheld the reasoning of an injunction issued last year by U.S. District Judge William Orrick in lawsuits filed by San Francisco and Santa Clara County.
But the panel said it was affirming the injunction only as applied to the two local governments. It said more evidence was needed as to whether a nationwide injunction was justified, and sent the case back to Orrick’s court for further proceedings.
Orrick had issued a nationwide order, in a preliminary injunction in April 2017 and a permanent injunction in November.
The use of nationwide injunctions by district judges was challenged by the Trump administration in the sanctuary cities case as well as in several other cases concerning opposition to presidential orders.
The appeals court majority said nationwide injunctions are sometimes justified. As an example, it specifically cited the circuit court’s own rulings upholding nationwide injunctions issued in lawsuits by Hawai‘i and Washington state challenging various versions of Trump’s travel ban on visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries.
Ultimately, the third revised version of the travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in June.
Thomas wrote, “We are unpersuaded by the administration’s arguments in favor of a blanket restriction on all nationwide injunctions.”
But he said more evidence was needed on whether a broad order was justified in the sanctuary cities case.
Circuit Judge Ferdinand Fernandez said in a dissent that he believed the executive order should be upheld because it contained a qualifying clause directing implementation “to the extent consistent with law.”
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley declined to comment on whether the government will appeal. The decision could be appealed to an expanded 9th Circuit panel or to the Supreme Court.
But O’Malley called the Aug. 1 ruling “a victory for criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”
The Justice Department continues to maintain that Trump “exercised his lawful authority when he issued the sanctuary city executive order,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley praised the part of the decision that set aside the nationwide scope of the injunction for the time being.
“When courts issue nationwide injunctions and order relief beyond the scope of a particular lawsuit, they overstep their role and improperly limit the government from functioning,” he said.
The decision was lauded in statements by San Francisco, Santa Clara County and Oakland officials.
Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said, “The 9th Circuit decision is a victory for the separation of powers principles at the core of our nation’s Constitution.
“Put simply: the president cannot use the threat of defunding as weapon to force local governments to abandon policies that make their communities safer,” Williams said.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, “When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab. The courts did that today.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who was criticized by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for announcing an impending federal immigration sweep in February, said, “Once again, the courts have intervened to stop President Trump’s overreach.
“Oakland, and all sanctuary cities, have a constitutional right to exist free from punishment by the federal government. Sanctuary cities are safer cities,” Schaaf said.
The local governments contend they are not violating any federal laws, but shouldn’t be required to use their resources to enforce federal measures. They also say their communities are safer when undocumented immigrants feel free to report crimes.
According to the ruling, about $1.2 billion of San Francisco’s annual budget of $9.6 billion is federal funds, and Santa Clara received $1.7 billion, about 35 percent of its budget, in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

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