The Trump administration likely overstepped its bounds when it tried to cut off federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities, a federal appeals court held Thursday.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the arguments the city of Chicago raised against the bid to withhold public safety funds from jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate in the enforcement of civil immigration law.
But the court declined to strike down a nationwide injunction that bars U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from imposing conditions on the receipt of funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
Over the years, the city of Chicago has used Byrne JAG funds to cover overtime pay, help support not-for-profit community organizations and buy police vehicles and other equipment.
The money at stake in 2017 for Chicago and jurisdictions that filed an amicus brief in its support was $35,377,000.
All three members of the 7th Circuit panel agreed the city likely will prevail on its argument the conditions violate the separation-of-powers doctrine.
The panel members, however, split on how much ground the injunction should cover.
Judges Ilana Diamond Rovner and William J. Bauer held the nationwide scope of the injunction is appropriate, while Judge Daniel A. Manion argued it should be trimmed to cover only Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the ruling.
“Immigrants and refugees from around the world have always looked to Chicago as a place where the American Dream is possible,” he said in a statement.
“We will not be bullied, intimidated or coerced into making a false choice between our values as a welcoming city and the principles of community policing.”
In a separate statement, Corporation Counsel Edward N. Siskel criticized Sessions for trying to “commandeer local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration law functions.”
U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., accused the Trump administration of exceeding its legal authority.
“It was a dangerous and irresponsible decision to pressure local communities to join in the president’s mass deportation agenda, and I’m glad the 7th Circuit has upheld this injunction,” he said in a statement.
Durbin was among 45 members of Congress — 12 senators and 33 representatives — who filed an amicus brief with the 7th Circuit in the case.
The Trump administration contended the 7th Circuit got it wrong.
And it maintained U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber did not have the authority to issue an injunction covering the entire United States.
“Nationwide injunctions allow a single federal district judge to set policy by ordering relief outside the scope of the particular case,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement.
“Many in the legal community have expressed concern that the use of nationwide injunctions is inconsistent with the separation of powers, and that their increased use creates a dangerous precedent.”
In its opinion, the 7th Circuit majority wrote the nation’s founders understood the concentration of power threatened individual liberty.
Therefore, the majority continued, the founders created a separation of powers among the three branches of government.
“If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken,” Rovner wrote.
And while nationwide injunctions should be imposed only in rare circumstances, she continued, this is one such case.
“Certainly, for issues of widespread national impact, a nationwide injunction can be beneficial in terms of efficiency and certainty in the law, and more importantly, in the avoidance of irreparable harm and in furtherance of the public interest,” Rovner wrote.
In his dissent, Manion described the nationwide nature of the injunction as “a gratuitous application of an extreme remedy.”
“We are not the Supreme Court, and we should not presume to decide legal issues for the whole country, even if they are purely facial challenges involving statutory interpretation,” he wrote.
As a sanctuary city, Chicago refuses to turn over undocumented foreign nationals not suspected of serious crimes to immigration authorities for deportation.
In July, Sessions announced new restrictions on the receipt of funds from the Byrne JAG grant.
One condition would require police to give immigration authorities at least 48 hours’ notice before a non-citizen is released from custody.
Police also could be required to give immigration authorities unrestricted access to police stations and lockups.
And Sessions later announced cities would have to certify their compliance with 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a federal law that bars local governments from restricting the sharing of immigration-status information with immigration authorities.
In August, Chicago officials filed a lawsuit alleging the conditions were unauthorized by statute as well as unconstitutional.
The following month, Leinenweber enjoined the enforcement of the notice and access provisions across the country while the case was pending.
Leinenweber declined to extend the injunction to the certification requirement. He held the city had failed to show it likely would prevail on its challenge to that condition.
The Trump administration appealed to the 7th Circuit. The city did not appeal Leinenweber’s ruling concerning the certification
In their opinions, both the 7th Circuit majority and Manion noted they were not passing judgment on the reasonableness of the conditions.
Instead, the majority wrote, the court was determining whether Sessions had the authority to impose the conditions in the first place.
He did not, the majority wrote.
In briefs filed in the case, it wrote, Sessions “is incredulous” that jurisdictions receiving federal grant money are allowed to complain about the conditions attached to the receipt of that money.
“But that repeated mantra evinces a disturbing disregard for the separation of powers,” Rovner wrote.
“The power of the purse does not belong to the executive branch. It rests in the legislative branch.
The case is City of Chicago v. Jefferson B. Sessions III, No. 17-2991.
By Patricia Manson
Law Bulletin staff writer
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
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