White House efforts to cut off funding for sanctuary cities slapped with permanent block

What the Trump administration is doing is "unconstitutional on its face," Judge William Orrick wrote.

Lydia Balderas, left, and Merced Leyua, right, join others as they protest against a new sanctuary cities bill outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File
Lydia Balderas, left, and Merced Leyua, right, join others as they protest against a new sanctuary cities bill outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

A federal judge has permanently blocked President Trump’s efforts to bar cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration forces from receiving funding, the most decisive blow yet to the White House’s efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.

In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ruled Trump’s January executive order seeking to cut off sanctuary cities from federal funding unconstitutional. The same judge put a hold on the executive order in April.

“The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds,” Orrick wrote in the latest decision. “Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive. 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 called Trump’s move “unconstitutional on its face.”

The White House quickly slammed the ruling, which responded to suits brought by San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara county.


“The District Court exceeded its authority today when it barred the President from instructing his cabinet members to enforce existing law,” a Justice Department spokesperson wrote in a statement. “The Justice Department will vindicate the President’s lawful authority to direct the executive branch.”

But supporters of sanctuary cities hailed the ruling. “No one is above the law, including the president. President Trump might be able to tweet whatever comes to mind, but he can’t grant himself new authority because he feels like it,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.

The Trump administration has repeatedly sought to target and undermine sanctuary cities, part of a larger effort to crack down on immigration more broadly. Trump has pledged to cut immigration in half nationally — something that is already impacting documented immigration. In September, the White House also announced an end (with a six-month delay) to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ending a crucial lifeline for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that cities failing to unilaterally comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would lose out on Office of Justice Programs grants. A number of cities promptly sued, including Seattle and Chicago, the latter of which argued that complying with ICE would violate its “Welcoming City ordinance” and endanger communities.


Chicago, which received $2.3 million in law enforcement grants last year, attracted the Justice Department’s ire. Sessions accused the city of sabotaging its residents and demonstrating “an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement.” Nonetheless, Chicago scored a big victory in September when a federal judge ruled that sanctuary cities could not be denied public safety grants — a ruling that was nationwide in scope.

Trump has historically reacted to these policy setbacks poorly, lashing out on Twitter and attacking judges personally. In April, the president slammed a ruling against both his sanctuary cities proposals and a version of his travel ban, which targets refugees and citizens from a number of predominately majority-Muslim countries, calling it “ridiculous.”

“First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings,” Trump wrote. “See you in the Supreme Court!”

While the president has yet to directly comment on Monday’s decision, his words could be used against the government in the future if he does. According to Orrick’s ruling on Tuesday, comments from both Trump and Sessions certainly did them no favors this time around.


“…If there was doubt about the scope of the Executive Order, the President and Attorney General erased it with their public comments,” the judge wrote. “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 cities don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order.’ ”

The Justice Department has not indicated whether it plans to appeal Monday’s ruling.