To the surprise of no one who’s ever listened to a single Donald Trump campaign speech, the Attorney General made an announcement last week in which he signaled that “sanctuary cities” were going to lose access to some federal grants and DoJ funding. The howls of outrage immediately followed, including various claims from the left that he can’t do that and all the usual protests over the limits of federal power. Among the cities under discussion was Chicago, famous for needing a lot of help in the law enforcement arena, but not willing to do anything to support immigration law enforcement. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wasn’t about to let a little bit of hypocrisy slow him down, though. He’s now fired back with a claim that Chicago will be going to court, suing President Trump and demanding they be given their share of the federal pork pie. (The Hill)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (sic) (D) plans to push back against the Trump administration’s policy withholding public safety grant money from so-called sanctuary cities by filing a federal lawsuit claiming it is illegal for the federal government to take such action.
“We’re not going to actually auction off our values as a city, so Monday morning the city of Chicago is going to court, we’re going to take the Justice Department to court based on this,” Emmanuel (sic) said during an interview on WLS radio 890 set to air Sunday, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“We find it unlawful and unconstitutional to be, as a city, coerced on a policy,” he continued.
Wait. “Unlawful and unconstitutional?” I understand that Emanuel isn’t a lawyer (he actually majored in dance) but has he spoken to any of his legal team about this? There have been any number of liberal analysts twisting and torturing the English language like a recalcitrant Gitmo detainee to find a way to say that Trump can’t do this, but their prospects are dim at best. Back when this question of withholding grant money for non-compliant cities and states first came up, even the very liberal Los Angeles Times was forced to concede that the President had the Constitutional authority to do it. (Even if they didn’t agree that he should.)
[W]hatever one thinks about Trump’s strategy, it almost certainly would pass muster at the Supreme Court.
Feldman and others point to New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997), in which the Supreme Court concluded that the federal government cannot conscript state or local officials to carry out federal law. The federal government must enforce its own laws, using federal personnel. So when state or local police arrest immigrants who are present in the country illegally, they are under no obligation to deport them, as deportation is the responsibility of the federal government alone.
In addition to the “anti-commandeering” doctrine, legal scholars point to other decisions which impact this question. The court has certainly held that the federal government can’t withhold funding in an arbitrary or capricious fashion as “punishment” for something completely unrelated to the funding in question, but when the taxpayer dollars under discussion directly relate to programs affecting such policy they can. They cite South Dakota v. Dole, the 1987 decision which held that Washington could withhold highway funds from states that failed to raise the minimum drinking age to 21. Given that highway funding and the reasons offered for raising the drinking age were so closely intertwined, the withholding of funds was supported by the Supreme Court.
Similarly, the grants in question currently are DoJ funds specifically relating to law enforcement. This is in keeping with previous decisions where the funding was deemed to be, “relevant to the federal interest in the project.” If Rahm Emanuel really wants to go to the mat on this one he’s more than welcome to, but if the courts have any respect at all for precedent it looks like he’s going to lose. The same goes for the rest of the sanctuary cities who want to block the lawful activities of federal immigration enforcement agencies but then put their hands out asking for law enforcement grant money from the same offices.