City Attorney Dennis Herrera (Examiner file photo)

Judge rejects Trump administration’s attempt to withhold public safety grants from sanctuary cities

A federal judge on Monday struck down conditions the Trump administration tried to place on federal law enforcement grants that could have blocked sanctuary cities like San Francisco from receiving the funding.

Judge William H. Orrick found unconstitutional conditions the Department of Justice placed on its 2018 public safety grants. The ruling is in line with an earlier decision striking down similar conditions placed on the same types of grants in 2017.

One new condition in the 2018 grants was a requirement prohibiting a grant recipient from disclosing information “of any federal law enforcement information in a direct or indirect attempt to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection any fugitive from justice.” The Department of Justice argued the condition was needed after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned immigrants in February 2018 of an imminent raid in the Bay Area by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Orrick’s ruling noted that “The crux of DOJ’s argument relies on an incident where the Oakland’s mayor informed residents of an impending federal immigration operation on social media, allegedly compromising the operation and law enforcement safety.”

But Orrick said the proposed non-disclosure condition was too broad and struck it down.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced the ruling Monday and noted it was his third legal victory against Trump administration attempts to overturn policies protecting immigrants in sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary policies restrict local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials. Supporters of sanctuary policies argue cities are safer when immigrants can report crimes to local law enforcement without fear of deportation.

“Justice has prevailed once again,” Herrera said in a statement. “These grant conditions were yet another example of presidential overreach, and the court rightly struck them down. This is a victory for the rule of law and common-sense law enforcement. Congress has the power of the purse. The president does not. I suggest this administration stop trying to villainize immigrants and instead read the Constitution.”

Monday’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco in U.S. District Court that sought to overturn conditions placed on 2018 law enforcement grants known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, which are doled out annually by the Department of Justice.

Herrera filed a similar lawsuit over conditions placed on 2017 grants that totaled about $1.4 million, and also prevailed in that case. San Francisco expects to receive the same amount from the 2018 grants.

Conditions included requirements that grant recipients allow federal agents access to jails and notify them of the release dates of noncitizens.

Orrick’s ruling reiterated findings from the 2017 case, but also addressed the non-disclosure condition.

“California and San Francisco agreed at the hearing that the desire to maintain confidentiality is reasonable and that they would not intentionally publicize confidential information concerning impending operations,” Orrick wrote in his March 4 ruling.

But, he wrote that “the condition goes well beyond the DOJ’s stated purposes.”

“Left to its core—that local jurisdictions should not publicize confidential federal law enforcement actions that are disclosed to local authorities to insure deconfliction and protect local law enforcement and residents—seems self-evident and reasonable,” he wrote. “But DOJ did not leave it to its core, and instead larded it with broad-ranging, ambiguous language that would allow DOJ the discretion to coerce local jurisdictions to comply with its interpretation of the statutes in dispute in these cases.”

Herrera also prevailed in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 31, 2017 over President Donald Trump’s executive order to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities.

Orrick ruled that the executive order violation the constitution, a ruling that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 1, 2018.

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