Judge Finds Terms for Justice Department Grant Too Broad

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Monday ordered the Trump administration to immediately release nearly $30 million in policing grants to San Francisco and California, finding a grant condition aimed at preventing leaks about impending immigration raids unclear and overbroad.

A grant condition requiring state and local governments keep certain information confidential would be “reasonable,” U.S. Distirct Judge William Orrick III wrote in his 31-page ruling. But Orrick found the Justice Department went further in seeking to impose terms with a “much broader scope and application.”

The grant condition forbade using federal law enforcement information in any “direct or indirect attempt to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection any fugitive from justice” or “alien” in violation of immigration laws.

Orrick found the term “indirect attempt” too broad, adding that one could easily imagine the Trump administration deeming state and local “sanctuary” laws as “indirect attempts” to harbor aliens, despite prior rulings barring the Justice Department from denying grants on that basis.

The Justice Department insisted the new condition was necessary to avert a repeat of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff’s February 2018 warning of a coming immigration raid in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Justice Department maintains that such disclosures put officers’ safety at risk and obstruct its ability to enforce laws.

Orrick rejected California’s argument that one warning by Mayor Schaff was not evidence of a larger problem or pattern.

“If the facts are as DOJ suggests, it does not need to wait for a larger number of disclosures of imminent law enforcement operations to justify acting,” Orrick wrote. But the judge also found the Trump administration failed to justify the “much broader scope and application” of its grant terms.

Finding the grant conditions “defective” for the same reasons across the country, Orrick found a permanent nationwide injunction justified. However, he delayed the injunction’s nationwide scope pending appeal.

The judge also found California’s request for immediate disbursal of funds warranted because the state and city rely on those grants to support “human health and welfare.”

The Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program provides funding for law enforcement, crime prevention and mental health programs, among other areas. San Francisco uses the money for drug enforcement, at-risk youth programs and other initiatives, including countering violent crime and gang activities.

Orrick ordered the Justice Department to immediately release $28.9 million to California and $489,666 to San Francisco for fiscal year 2018. San Francisco also expects to receive another $1 million in state sub-grant funding.

In his ruling, Orrick also struck down other grant conditions that he had previously deemed unconstitutional and enjoined nationwide. Those conditions included giving immigration agents access to local jails, providing 48-hour notice before releasing immigrants and certifying compliance with an immigration law that Orrick and other federal judges struck down as unconstitutional.

The law – Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code of Laws – requires that local governments not bar employees from sharing an individual’s immigration status with federal agents. Orrick found the law impermissibly compelled state and local government employees to help enforce federal laws. An appeal of Orrick’s ruling in that case is still pending in the Ninth Circuit.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra welcomed the ruling Monday, describing it as yet another affirmation that the Trump administration may not require California to do “the federal government’s job on immigration enforcement” as a condition for policing grants.

“The Trump administration’s reckless attempts to block funds to California unless it accepts the administration’s deportation scheme risks the safety of our communities and would hamper the work of our law enforcement,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue to fight to ensure law enforcement agencies in California have the necessary resources to promote public safety.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the grant conditions “another example of presidential overreach” and suggested that President Donald Trump spend less time “villainiz[ing] immigrants” and more time “read[ing] the constitution.”

“Congress has the power of the purse. The president does not,” Herrera said in a statement.

Justice Department spokesman Abraham Simmons declined to comment.

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