Ninth Circuit Scales Back Injunction on Sanctuary City Grant Cuts

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The Ninth Circuit on Monday scaled back a nationwide injunction that blocks the Trump administration from cutting off grants to sanctuary jurisdictions, finding it should only apply to California.

A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel found the law clearly forbids the Justice Department from denying grant funds to jurisdictions that refuse to give immigration agents access to local jails or alert them when an immigrant is being released from jail.

However, the panel also found that U.S. District Judge William Orrick III overstepped his authority when he made the permanent injunction apply nationwide in October 2018.

“The district court abused its discretion by issuing a nationwide injunction without determining whether plaintiffs needed relief of this scope to fully recover,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Clifton, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote for the panel.

The panel noted that in some cases where a plaintiff does not operate in a limited geographic area, a nationwide injunction may be appropriate. That was the case when the Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide block of a Trump administration policy that made immigrants ineligible for asylum unless they crossed the southern border at official ports of entry. In that case, because the plaintiffs were immigrant advocacy groups that operate outside of California and the Ninth Circuit’s boundaries, a nationwide injunction was deemed appropriate.

In the present lawsuit brought by California and the city of San Francisco, the panel found a limited injunction would provide ample relief in ensuring law enforcement grants are not withheld from jurisdictions within the Golden State.

“While extending this same relief to non-party jurisdictions beyond California’s geographical bounds would likely be of consequence to those other jurisdictions, it does nothing to remedy the specific harms alleged by the plaintiffs in this case,” Clifton wrote in the 27-page opinion.

The panel also rejected the Trump administration’s arguments that Section 1373 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act requires local jurisdictions to share information with federal agents beyond a person’s citizenship status.

The administration had insisted the law also requires local jurisdictions to provide an immigrant’s home addresses, jail release date and other information.

“Because § 1373 does not extend to contact and release status information, federal law does not preclude San Francisco from prohibiting the release of such information,” Clifton wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher, a Bill Clinton appointee, and U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Miller, a Donald Trump appointee, joined Clifton on the panel.

In a separate case last year, the Ninth Circuit upheld the Trump administration’s right to cut off policing grants to Los Angeles because the city did not select “illegal immigration” as its focus area or submit a cooperation agreement with its application – two scoring factors the Justice Department considered when awarding additional “points” for applicants. The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for an en banc rehearing in that case in December 2019.

Federal judges in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York have previously barred the Trump administration from withholding policing grants from sanctuary jurisdictions. A Seventh Circuit panel in May upheld a nationwide injunction issued by a federal judge in Chicago. In February 2019, the Third Circuit also upheld a court order blocking the feds from denying grants to the city of Philadelphia.

In New York, the Second Circuit reversed a lower court’s injunction in February, giving the Trump administration a green light to withhold funding from New York City and seven states that sued to stop the grant cuts. On Monday, the same day the Ninth Circuit scaled back a nationwide injunction in California’s case, the Second Circuit denied a petition for an en banc rehearing brought by New York City and seven states — New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island.

San Francisco sued the Justice Department in August 2017 after the Trump administration announced plans make jurisdictions ineligible for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program unless they gave immigration agents unfettered access to local jails and provided 48 hours’ notice before releasing undocumented immigrants from jail. California joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff before passing its own set of “Sanctuary State” laws in October 2017.

Reacting to the ruling, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera applauded the Ninth Circuit’s decision in an emailed statement Monday.

“We’re pleased the courts have again recognized that San Francisco’s sanctuary laws and policies comply with federal law,” Herrera wrote. “These grant conditions were yet another attempt at presidential overreach, and we have put a stop to it. The Trump administration should spend less time villainizing immigrants and more time trying to help all Americans during this devastating pandemic. Now is not the time to try to withhold funding from local governments.”

The Ninth Circuit’s decision will ensure California receives $28.3 million in public safety grants that could have been withheld under the Trump administration’s policy, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Monday.

“We sued the Trump administration because our priority in California is to keep our communities safe and protected,” Becerra said. “To California’s critics of our lawsuits against the president who argue that we should surrender to Donald Trump’s bully playbook, I offer another 28.3 million reasons why we won’t.”

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately return an email requesting comment Monday.

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