DOJ Takes ‘Sanctuary’ Fight Over Grant Funds To High Court
Law360 (November 17, 2020, 10:56 PM EST) — The Trump administration has taken its fight against so-called sanctuary jurisdictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices for permission to condition California’s receipt of federal grant funds on the state’s cooperation with immigration enforcement.
In a Nov. 13 petition recently made public, acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall urged the high court to reverse a Ninth Circuit ruling striking down the U.S. Department of Justice‘s conditions on the grant money, including that states give immigration authorities access to jails and advance notice of immigrants’ release dates.
The grant, known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program after a New York City police officer who was fatally shot while guarding a witness in a drug-trafficking case, makes millions available for states and local jurisdictions to fund law enforcement and other criminal justice efforts. The government argued that the DOJ has the authority to set conditions on the public grant funds, and that the Ninth Circuit’s decision otherwise “disregarded the statutory text and context at every turn.”
“Its decision replaces a statutory framework designed to ensure that grantees are good partners with one that enables them to accept federal assistance even while openly obstructing the federal government’s own law-enforcement efforts,” the petition said.
The federal government is contesting the Ninth Circuit’s July decision barring the DOJ from imposing those conditions on California, following litigation brought by the state attorney general’s office and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled in 2018 that the DOJ’s immigration conditions on the federal funds were unconstitutional. However, he stayed the nationwide effect of his ruling while the federal government appealed, limiting the immediate relief to California.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit upheld Judge Orrick’s ruling, but narrowed it to apply only within California. That decision was in line with the federal appeals court’s earlier ruling barring the Justice Department from imposing those immigration conditions on Los Angeles.
If the high court agrees to take up the case and wade into the sanctuary dispute, it could resolve an issue that has split the circuit courts. Earlier this year, the justices ducked the Trump administration’s challenge to a California state “sanctuary” law preventing local officials from sharing information about individuals’ immigration status with federal authorities.
After the administration announced the immigration conditions during President Donald Trump’s first year in office, a slew of local governments and states with laws and policies limiting immigration cooperation sued, and a number of federal judges barred the DOJ from withholding funds for immigration reasons.
The Seventh, Third and First circuits have joined the Ninth Circuit to uphold those lower court orders. However, the Second Circuit approved the conditions on funding earlier this year in litigation brought by New York.
A divided Second Circuit panel rejected New York’s request for a full court rehearing of that decision, sparking dissent from four appeals court judges, one of whom remarked in an opinion that she was “frankly, astounded” that her colleagues had declined to review the panel ruling.
In a Tuesday statement to Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accused the Trump administration of trying to “coerce our state by holding critical public safety funds hostage and putting our communities at risk.”
“Twice before we have taken them to court for this and won. We’re prepared to do it again if necessary,” he said.
John Coté, communications director for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said in a statement Tuesday that the DOJ’s grant conditions are “yet another example of presidential overreach.”
“In their final weeks in office, the Trump administration should spend less time villainizing immigrants and more time trying to bring this pandemic under control. Now is not the time to try to withhold funding from local governments,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.
The federal government is represented by acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall.
Counsel for California and San Francisco have not yet appeared before the Supreme Court. At the appeals court, they were represented by Joshua A. Klein of the California Department of Justice and Aileen McGrath of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
The case is William P. Barr et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, California, et al., case number 20-666, in the U.S. Supreme Court.
–Editing by Breda Lund.
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