SAN FRANCISCO (CN) —A federal judge Monday permanently struck down one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders, which sought to cut off funds to “sanctuary cities.”
In a summary judgment ruling, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III found Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order violated the Constitution in multiple ways: by invoking spending powers that belong exclusively to Congress, and by placing unrelated conditions on federal grants in violation of the Tenth Amendment.
“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,” Orrick wrote in a 28-page ruling.
With billions in annual federal aid on the line, both jurisdictions cited the risk of major budget uncertainty. San Francisco receives $1.2 billion in annual federal aid and $800 million in multiyear grants, while Santa Clara County relies on $1.7 billion each year to fund essential services, including public health and child protective services.
“This is a victory for the American people and the rule of law,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Monday night. “This executive order was unconstitutional before the ink on it was even dry.”
Section 9(a) of Trump’s executive order sought to withhold funds from sanctuary jurisdictions that “willfully refuse to comply” with 8 U.S. Code § 1373, which forbids restricting government employees from sharing a person’s immigration status with immigration authorities.
San Francisco says that it complies with federal law because its sanctuary city ordinance does not bar city employees from sharing a person’s citizenship status with immigration agents.
But the city does limit cooperation with immigration authorities in other ways: by not sharing the release dates of certain nonviolent criminals or turning over those inmates to immigration agents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo in May clarifying that the executive order would authorize withholding only a small pot of grants tied specifically to immigration enforcement.
Orrick called Sessions’s memo a nonbinding “illusory promise” that does nothing to make the text of Trump’s executive order less unconstitutional.
“Section 9(a), by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three grants listed in the AG’s Memorandum,” Orrick wrote “The rest of the Executive Order is broader still, addressing all federal funding.”
Orrick added that if there were any doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general erased those doubts with their public comments.
“The President has called it ‘a weapon’ to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement, and his press secretary reiterated that the President intends to ensure that ‘counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cites don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order,’” Orrick wrote. “The Attorney General has warned that jurisdictions that do not comply with Section 1373 would suffer ‘withholding [of] grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants,’ and the ‘claw back’ of any funds previously awarded.”
Orrick declined to rule on whether San Francisco’s sanctuary city law complies with federal law. He said he would revisit that issue in a separate lawsuit challenging the Department of Justice’s decision to deny sanctuary cities funds from a specific criminal justice grant program.
Herrera said in his Monday night statement that the city’s policy of refusing to help detain and deport nonviolent immigrants does not violate federal law.
“Let me be clear: San Francisco follows federal immigration law,” Herrera said. “We do not harbor criminals. The federal government knows who is in our jails. If they think someone is dangerous, all they need is a criminal warrant.”
A Department of Justice representative suggested that the Trump administration will likely appeal the judge's ruling.
“The district court exceeded its authority today when it barred the president from instructing his cabinet members to enforce existing law, " Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in an email. "The Justice Department will vindicate the president’s lawful authority to direct the executive branch.”
Orrick’s ruling follows a September ruling by a federal judge in Chicago that blocked the Department of Justice from cutting off grants to cities that refuse to let immigration agents inside jails and police stations or provide 48 hours notice before releasing undocumented immigrants.