On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that Trump’s executive order threatening to defund sanctuary areas was just that — a threat. Rather than issuing an overarching policy of denying all federal funding to cities, counties and states that refuse to play along with the Trump Administration’s agenda, the executive order was largely ineffectual, the judge wrote in a 49-page ruling.
This was after oral arguments in which the government admitted the executive order held no power to make policy changes. The acting assistant attorney general who argued the case conceded that the policy announced in the executive order only has the effect of reminding sanctuary areas that some grants are already contingent on compliance with certain immigration policies.
Specifically, the only funds that could be pulled from sanctuary areas are three specific grants that are issued by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. A longstanding law already requires recipients to agree not to bar local authorities from sharing people’s immigration statuses with federal immigration agencies. The executive order is more of a “bully pulpit” exercise than an attempt to change the law.
The federal judge wasn’t willing to take the government’s concessions at face value, however.
“It is heartening that the government’s lawyers recognize that the order cannot do more constitutionally than enforce existing law,” he wrote. “But Section 9(a), by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing.”
Indeed, San Francisco and Santa Clara County have sued to block the executive order because they believe Trump means what he said in the order. San Francisco, for one, believes that all of its citizens are safer when immigrants feel no hesitation to contact police when necessary, and fears that the executive order and the “Trump Effect” generally will cause immigrants to hold back. The city and county also believe the order is illegal, and sought a ruling putting the order on hold.
The judge agreed. Other than grants that are already tied to immigration requirements, no funding can be pulled be means of an executive order.
“The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the president, so the order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds,” he 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.”