Ninth Circuit slams Trump’s “sanctuary city” crackdown

Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Trump Administration in its attempt to withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.” Though the case was brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara, it’s good news for Seattle too.

The counties had already been granted a nationwide injunction against Trump’s executive order, issued January 25, 2017, that ordered executive branch departments to withhold federal funding from jurisdictions with “sanctuary” policies. The DOJ issued a memo interpreting the executive order more narrowly, but the district court found that the DOJ memo couldn’t supersede the executive order itself and refused to reconsider its injunction.

In its appeal, the Trump administration argued three things:

  1. The counties do not have standing to sue, since no actual funds have been withheld yet and may never be so they haven’t suffered any injury;
  2. The case isn’t ripe, again because no funds have been withheld yet;
  3. The executive order has a “savings clause” saying that it must be implemented in a manner that is consistent with applicable law, so therefore it can’t be illegal.

The appeals court fully agreed with the district court that the counties have standing and that the issue is ripe for the court to hear it. It pointed to President Trump’s and Attorney General Sessions’ repeated threats to withhold federal funds, which for San Francisco and Santa Clara total in the billions. It also found that the DOJ memo only applied to Department of Justice staff, and thus Trump’s executive order still applied to the rest of the Executive Branch.

As for the merits of the case, it agreed that the order itself violates Constitutional separation of powers, in that only Congress may legislate and allocate funds. The Executive Branch may not refuse to spend funds allocated by Congress, and it may not place additional conditions on those funds without Congressional approval (because doing so is tantamount to legislating). It didn’t rule on whether the operative federal law, 8 USC 1373, which prohibits local governments from preventing its employees from sharing immigration-related information with federal officials, is legal itself; some have argued that it illegally conscripts state and local officials into enforcing federal laws.

But in an interesting turn, the appeals court vacated the district court’s nationwide injunction on Trump’s executive order. The notion of federal courts issuing injunctions with nationwide scope has come under scrutiny recently; it has been argued that it interferes with the court system’s ability to have different judges look at an issue and potentially come to different conclusions. What happens when a district judge in Miami and another in Seattle issue conflicting injunctions with nationwide scope? The Circuit Courts of Appeals, and u