Wednesday, August 1, 2018
The Ninth Circuit struck another blow today against the administration's anti-sanctuary cities policy, ruling in San Francisco v. Trump that the President can't unilaterally withhold federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions without Congress's say-so.
The ruling is just the latest in a line of similar rulings, and aligns broadly with the Seventh Circuit's ruling in the spring. This ruling is just a little bit different, however, in that it focuses principally on President Trump's original and sweeping Executive Order (and not AG Sessions's interpretive memo). The court rejects the government's attempt to narrow the test of the EO by focusing instead on AG Sessions's memo as the actual government policy. It said that the memo doesn't align with the EO (and is therefore itself ultra vires), and that in any event it's only a post-hoc justification to get the EO to pass muster in the courts.
While the ruling is an outright win for San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the court threw a bone to the administration by vacating the district court's nationwide injunction and remanding the case for reconsideration and further findings on that issue.
The facts--or at least their general outline--is all too familiar by now: In an effort to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions, the President ordered that sanctuary jurisdictions come into line with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local jurisdictions from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration officials. (Other cases have also involved the "notice" and "access" conditions that AG Sessions purported to put on receipt of a certain federal grant in his memo. Those conditions required jurisdictions to provide notice to federal immigration enforcement officials of any detention, and access to state and local facilities for federal immigration enforcement. This ruling didn't deal with those, because it focused on the EO itself.)
The court simply held that under the separation of powers and Congress's Article I, Section 8, power of the purse, it's for Congress, not the Executive, to put conditions on federal spending. The court said that "because Congress has the exclusive power to spend and has not delegated authority to the Executive to condition new grants on compliance with Section 1373, the President's 'power is at its lowest ebb,'" under Justice Jackson's Youngstown framework. And at the lowest ebb, "[b]ecause the Executive Order directs Executive Branch administrative agencies to withhold funding that Congress has not tied to compliance with Section 1373, there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority." In sum:
Absent congressional authorization, the Administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals. Because Congress did not authorize withholding of funds, the Executive Order violates the constitutional principle of the Separation of Powers.
The court flatly rejected the administration's (pretty incredible) argument that its move to condition funds "is all bluster and no bite, representing a perfectly legitimate use of the presidential 'bully pulpit,' without any real meaning . . . .":
[E]ven if we ignore the statements made by and on behalf of the Administration outside the context of this litigation, the Administration's interpretation of the Executive Order strains credulity. And consideration of those statements suggests that the Administration's current litigation position is grounded not in the text of the Executive Order but in a desire to avoid legal consequences.
(Interestingly, the court said nothing about the constitutionality of Section 1373 itself. That provision is now questionable, in light of Murphy v. NCAA, as a possible "commandeering" of state governments in violation of the anti-commandeering principle. Judge Fernandez, in dissent, distinguished Murphy in a footnote by saying that the Court's articulated "principles behind the anticommnadeering rule" don't apply to Section 1373. But it's not clear how the plain ruling itself doesn't apply to Section 1373. More to come on this, I'm sure.)
The court then vacated the district court's nationwide injunction, because "the present record does not support a nationwide injunction." The court remanded "for a more searching inquiry into whether this case justifies the breadth of the injunction imposed."
(Along the way, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was ripe for judicial review.)
Judge Fernandez dissented, arguing that the case wasn't ripe and, in any event, that the EO was constitutional, because, by its plain terms, it only applies "to the fullest extent of the law."