Federal Appeals Court Blocks Withholding of Funds for Sanctuary Jurisdictions

March 26, 2020 Updated: March 26, 2020

A federal appeals court has struck down a Trump administration policy that withholds millions of dollars in law enforcement grants from so-called sanctuary states as part of a campaign to pressure them to cooperate with immigration law enforcement, which is a federal responsibility.

Getting tough on illegal immigration has been President Donald Trump’s signature issue.

In 2017, the administration began to require that U.S. immigration officials be granted access to jails and that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) be provided advance notice before local authorities release an illegal alien wanted by ICE.

Almost immediately, states and cities that harbor illegal aliens began to resist the directive.

In the case at hand, two Rhode Island municipalities, Providence and Central Falls, sued the federal government after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) withheld grants under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. The program, created by Congress in 2005, is named after a New York police officer killed in the line of duty in 1988 at the age of 22.

The grants are distributed based on, among other factors, the recipient jurisdiction’s population and violent crime rates.

The ruling by the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in the case known as City of Providence v. Barr came March 24. Former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter participated in the decision, ruling against the Trump administration. Former justices are allowed to sit on federal courts of appeals after leaving the Supreme Court.

In this case, the U.S. district court that first heard the lawsuit sided with the two municipalities, and the DOJ appealed.

The 1st Circuit opinion, written by Judge Bruce Selya, mocked the DOJ for its “kitchen-sink-full of clever legal arguments,” ruling that the agency “lacked the authority to impose the challenged conditions.”

“When the federal government deals with state and local governments, it must turn square corners. Here, the DOJ took an impermissible shortcut when it attempted to impose the challenged conditions on the Cities’ FY2017 Byrne JAG grants—conditions that Congress had not vested the DOJ with authority to impose,” the court stated.

The court noted that there is now what lawyers call a “circuit split” because the various circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals don’t agree on how to handle this specific legal issue. Judges in the appeals courts for the 3rd, 7th, and 9th Circuits, have ruled against the Trump administration on this issue. The disagreement could eventually be resolved by the Supreme Court in the nation’s capital.

When oral arguments were heard, three courts of appeals “had refused to enforce some or all of the challenged conditions,” but between then and March 24, the 2nd Circuit upheld those challenged conditions, creating a circuit split, Selya wrote.

In the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling in favor of the administration, Judge Reena Raggi acknowledged that as issues, sanctuary jurisdictions and immigration enforcement have had a polarizing effect on society.

“The case implicates several of the most divisive issues confronting our country and, consequently, filling daily news headlines: national immigration policy, the enforcement of immigration laws, the status of illegal aliens in this country, and the ability of States and localities to adopt policies on such matters contrary to, or at odds with, those of the federal government.”

At the same time, Raggi rejected the sanctuary states’ argument that attaching conditions to federal grants unconstitutionally “intrude[s] on powers reserved to the States.” At that time, a DOJ spokesman praised the decision, saying it “rightfully recognizes the lawful authority of the Attorney General to ensure that Department of Justice grant recipients are not at the same time thwarting federal law enforcement priorities.”

“DOJ declines comment,” Alexei Woltornist, a public affairs officer for the department, said via email, in response to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.