By Pax Ahimsa Gethen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

April 25, 2017; New York Times

In a preliminary response to a suit filed by Santa Clara County and the city of San Francisco, federal judge William H. Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California has granted a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration, preventing it from trying to punish sanctuary jurisdictions through cutting federal funding. Also pursuing the suit through an amicus brief were CalNonprofits, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, and the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, along with a number of other networks, associations, and individual nonprofits.

CalNonprofits took a stand and signed on “because President Trump’s executive order would have hurt our communities and damaged our ability to serve them.” The brief further describes their standing in the case:

Proposed amici are community-based nonprofit organizations and associations of nonprofit organizations in the health and human services sector. Amici organizations and members of the associations provide a range of services including homelessness intervention, nutrition support, emergency assistance, senior services, medical care, mental health care, support for survivors of domestic violence, and support for at-risk youth. Amici and their members rely on federal funds passed through to them by local governments, local government funding, and private funding, all of which is placed in jeopardy by the Executive Order at issue in this case. Proposed amici submit this motion and accompanying brief to emphasize the severe and harmful impact of the Executive Order on their organizations, their programs, and the communities they serve.

The ruling applies nationwide. Lawyers for the plaintiffs built their argument that the executive order violates the 10th Amendment rights of sanctuary jurisdictions and could cost them billions in federal dollars.

Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams called Orrick’s ruling “historic.”

Today’s decision is a historic affirmation of the U.S. Constitution’s core principles—that the president cannot usurp powers not given to him, and that the federal government cannot use federal defunding to coerce local governments into becoming federal immigration enforcers.

Judge Orrick’s ruling reads, in part, “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.”

The judge’s ruling does not affect the federal government’s ability to enforce existing conditions on federal grants tied to immigration policy and does not stop the administration from drafting new regulations.

Again, in this decision, as in the decision staying the temporary immigration ban affecting seven (later six) Muslim-majority countries, verbal statements from the president and other spokespeople for the administration helped to prove the plaintiffs’ case. Courthouse News reports that in a January 14th hearing, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued that the policy would pertain only to three types of grants issued by the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security. Those particular grants require that jurisdictions not bar local employees from reporting an individual’s immigration status to the federal government.

But, wrote Orrick, “If there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments. The president has called it ‘a weapon’ to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement, and his press secretary has reiterated that the president intends to ensure that ‘counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cites don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order.’”

“The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the president, so the order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds,” Orrick wrote. “Further, the 10th Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that the total financial incentive not be coercive.”—Ruth McCambridge