Court Holds that Administration Cannot Withhold Federal Funds, Even from Sanctuary Jurisdictions

One of President’s Trump’s first actions in office was to make a show of withholding federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. In the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” Executive Order, the President sought to “[e]nsure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.” Two California jurisdictions that do not honor detainers (the core compliant of the Administration) sued in federal court to enjoin the order.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge William Orrick first identified which branch controls the grant of federal funds: Congress, not the President. The judge also relied on the Tenth Amendment, which requires that any conditions on federal funds must unambiguous, timely made, bear some relation to the funds at issue, and not be unduly coercive. The Executive Order did not meet the requirements, and the judge was able to permanently enjoin this portion of it. (Because of the high interest in sanctuary cases, the district court has established a dedicated Web page with case information and other important news.)

The decision by the federal judge came shortly after the Attorney General sent letters to several sanctuary jurisdictions threatening them with withholding federal dollars if cooperation in immigration was not forthcoming. After the decision, the relevant authorities in the executive branch did disperse federal funds to many jurisdictions, including those that had received a letter from the AG just a few weeks prior.


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