Trump Wins Major Court Victory on Sanctuary Cities

Joseph Klein,

Finally, a federal court comes to its senses on immigration.

President Trump scored a major court victory in his continuing fight against lawless sanctuary states and cities. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration can withhold grants from sanctuary states and cities, overturning a lower court decision. New York City and seven states had sued the administration, seeking to reverse the Justice Department’s announced decision in 2017 affecting their grants. The Justice Department announced that it would withhold grant money from cities and states until they take certain steps to cooperate more fully with federal immigration authorities seeking to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.

At stake are millions of dollars in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants to support state and local criminal justice efforts. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these grants can be legally withheld from cities and states refusing to comply with three immigration-related conditions designed to assist federal immigration officers apprehend illegal immigrants. In order to be eligible to receive the grants, the grant applicants must:

  1.    certify their willingness to comply with applicable federal law that precludes government entities and officials from prohibiting or restricting the sharing of citizenship or alien‐status information with federal immigration authorities;
  2.    provide assurance that, upon written request of federal immigration authorities, the grant recipients would provide notice of an incarcerated alien’s scheduled release date; and
  3.    certify that grant recipients would afford federal authorities with access to incarcerated suspected aliens in order for those authorities to determine the aliens’ right to remain in the United States.

The appeals court concluded that “the plain language of the relevant statutes authorizes the Attorney General to impose the challenged conditions.” These conditions, the court decision said, “help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations. But more to the authorization point, they ensure that applicants satisfy particular statutory grant requirements imposed by Congress and subject to Attorney General oversight.”

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Citing Supreme Court precedent, the appeals court held that, in the realm of immigration policy, the federal government maintains “broad” and “preeminent” power, meaning that state and local governments are prohibited from pursuing “policies that undermine federal law.” The court observed that “there is something disquieting in the idea of States and localities seeking federal funds to enforce their own laws while themselves hampering the enforcement of federal laws, or worse, violating those laws.” Adopting policies that interfere with federal immigration law enforcement and effectively encouraging the harboring of illegal aliens to prevent their detection by federal authorities is “disquieting,” to say the least.

In reaching its decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals did something that at least three of its peer courts in other federal circuits – including, not surprisingly, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – did not bother to do. It interpreted the applicable federal statutory language as written, not as judicial activists would have preferred to suit their own policy preferences. The court ruled that the attorney general was authorized under relevant federal statutory law to impose the three grant conditions.

“Repeatedly and throughout its pronouncement of Byrne Program statutory requirements,” the court opinion said, “Congress makes clear that a grant applicant demonstrates qualification by satisfying statutory requirements in such form and according to such rules as the Attorney General establishes. This confers considerable authority on the Attorney General.” The court carefully analyzed each challenged condition and the statutory provisions supporting it.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals also made short shrift of any constitutional objections to the statutory authority as relates to the grant conditions imposed by the attorney general. The “anticommandeering principle” adopted by the Supreme Court, which prohibits the federal government from compelling the states to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program, is not applicable here. “A commandeering challenge to a federal statute,” the court stated, “depends on there being pertinent authority ‘reserved to the States,’” as the Tenth Amendment stipulates. In the immigration policy context, there would be no such general authority reserved to the states to undermine federal immigration law by enacting contrary laws of their own.

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“Thus, where Congress places conditions on a State’s receipt of federal funds—whether directly, or by delegation of clarifying authority to an executive agency—there is no commandeering of reserved State power,” according to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, quoting a Supreme Court decision, so long as the State has ‘a legitimate choice whether to accept the federal conditions in exchange for federal funds.’”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision is rooted in well-reasoned statutory and constitutional interpretation. It also makes the logical connection between eligibility for a federal grant aimed to support law enforcement and the recipient’s own willingness not to stand in the way of federal law enforcement regarding criminal detainees in their custody who are illegally in this country. As the Daily Wire has reported, evidence has shown that “the cities and states have actively prevented local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities about criminal illegal aliens.” (Emphasis added)

It is one thing to say that the states and local law enforcement agencies are not obliged to use their own resources to pick up and hold illegal aliens who have not broken any state or local laws. It is quite another to say that states and localities who want to receive federal grant money can at the same time deliberately help those illegal aliens, already in their custody for having committed violent crimes, to elude the federal authorities and allow these criminals back into American communities.

Hopefully, as President Trump continues to fill the federal bench with strict constructionists, the wayward courts – especially the ultra-liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – will come to their senses and stop twisting the law to reflect their left wing ideological bent.