“The Trump administration’s latest attempt to punish sanctuary cities hit a snag on Friday when a federal court ruled the Justice Department cannot withhold public safety grants from jurisdictions that refuse to assist federal immigration authorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had attempted to prevent cities and states from receiving these funds unless they cooperatedwith immigration officials’ crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The court held that Sessions in fact has no power to attach new restrictions to the grants, rendering most of his new rules unlawful.
Friday’s decision marked the second time a court has blocked Sessions’ attempts to penalize sanctuary cities by depriving them of federal grants. It also comes on the heels of a sweeping ruling that froze the most controversial provisions of Texas’ new anti–sanctuary cities bill. Earlier this month, the White House declared that Donald Trump is “restoring law and order to our immigration system.” But in their haste to adopt a restrictionist immigration regime, Trump, Sessions, and their fellow Republicans have shown a consistent disdain for federal statutes and constitutional protections.
Consider Sessions’ latest sanctuary cities imbroglio. In July, the attorney general created new criteria for Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, which dispense hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local law enforcement. Under these rules, jurisdictions would not be eligible for Byrne grants unless they collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Most pertinent here, law enforcement officials would have to give ICE agents access to local jails and, if the agency is interested in detaining an undocumented immigrant, notify ICE 48 hours before that person is set to be released. Chicago sued, alleging that the new rules were illegal.
Where does Sessions get the authority to impose these conditions on Byrne grants? Nowhere, as Judge Harry D. Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois pointed out in his ruling siding with Chicago. The Constitution grants Congress, not the executive branch, authority to impose conditions on federal funding. And Congress has never authorized the Justice Department, which is part of the executive branch, to force Byrne grantees to work with ICE. Sessions simply usurped Congress’ authority to make new rules.
When Chicago sued Sessions over the Byrne conditions in August, the attorney general put out a Trumpian statement asserting that the city “proudly violate[s] the rule of law” by protecting undocumented immigrants. But as Leinenweber explained on Friday, it was Sessions, not Chicago, who was acting lawlessly.
It’s surprising that Sessions would try to meddle with Byrne grants given that his first foray into sanctuary city–bashing failed so spectacularly. In Trump’s first days in office, the president issued an executive order directing the attorney general and Homeland Security secretary to withhold all federal grants and funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. Multiple cities quickly filed suit to defend their sanctuary policies. Sessions’ Justice Department, which apparently realized this order would violate multiple constitutional provisions, told a federal court that in reality, the order was nothing more than a narrow warning to sanctuary cities that the government would enforce current grant conditions.
In April, U.S. District Judge William Orrick blocked the order as an unconstitutional abomination. In his decision, Orrick essentially mocked the Justice Department, writing that he would not accept the DOJ’s “implausible” interpretation as it would transform Trump’s order into “an ominous, misleading, and ultimately toothless threat.” Instead, he analyzed the text of the order and found that it infringed upon constitutional separation of powers; coerced and commandeered local jurisdictions in violation of the 10thAmendment; and ran afoul of basic due process principles.
The White House promptly complained that Orrick “unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation” in an “egregious overreach.” Ironically, that is almost exactly what Trump had done through his executive order, illegally attaching new conditions to federal funds without congressional approval. Orrick had merely enforced the law; it was Trump who tried to change it unilaterally.
Neither of the Trump administration’s unlawful immigration power-grabs is as startling as SB 4, a Texas bill targeting sanctuary cities that Sessions’ Justice Department has defended in court. Confident in their measure’s legislative success, Texas Republicans turned SB 4 into a compendium of the most draconian possible attacks on sanctuary jurisdictions. The bill compelled local police to enforce immigration law, cooperate with ICE agents, and detain potentially undocumented immigrants; it also censored local officials who wished to speak out against the law. Law enforcement officers who ran afoul of SB 4 would face massive fines, jail time, and removal from office. Government employees who criticized the measure could also be fined and stripped of their positions.”
Let’s get this straight: the “rule of law” to Sessions means laws aimed disproportionately at Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, undocumented migrants, non-white immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, ethnic communities, jurisdictions that voted for Democrats, legal marijuana users and businesses, innocent victims of civil forfeitures, and “leakers” (many would say “whistleblowers”) who are career civil servants. In other words law enforcement that in some disturbing ways parallels the “Jim Crow” laws in Alabama and other Southern States to which Sessions would apparently like to return (only with a greater emphasis on targeting Latinos, rather than Blacks, although he has little use for the latter now that the confirmation process is complete during which he “conned” a couple of Blacks into saying he wasn’t a racist.)
I remember from my youth hypocritical Southern racists like George Wallace asserting the false mantle of “the rule of law” and “states rights” for enforcing blatantly discriminatory racial laws while stomping on the actual legal and constitutional rights, and often lives, of Black citizens. Sessions has little or no intention of enforcing laws relating to civil rights protections, voting rights, protections for LGBTQ individuals, protections against local police abuses, due process for migrants in and outside of the U.S. Immigration Court process, environmental protection, constitutional conditions of detention, and ethics. Sessions is clearly a liar, if not a perjurer (which he might be) under legal definitions.
We should all be concerned that this totally unqualified and disingenuous individual has been put in charge of the U.S. justice system. I’ve commented earlier on the glaring unsuitability of individuals like Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton to be governing a state with a significant Hispanic population.
And, Stern’s article didn’t even raise Trump’s greatest and most audacious abuse of the rule of law: his totally unjustified and inappropriate abuse of the Presidential Pardon authority by pardoning the unrepentant, unapologetic “Racist Joe.” Think about what “Racist Joe” stands for, as described by a U.S. District Judge who found him guilty of contempt of court after trial for his continuing, knowing, and intentional abuses of the constitutional rights of Latino citizens and prisoners, among others. In what way does “Racist Joe” deserve a pardon? How would you feel if you were a Hispanic citizen or a detainee who had his or her constitutional rights intentionally violated and was victimized by this arrogant, bullying, racist? The innocent suffer while the guilty go unpunished. What kind of “rule of law” is that?
Then think of all the GOP “politicos” who “palled around” with “Racist Joe” and his toxic sidekick Kris Kobach and even sought their endorsements! That’s because it would help with the racist, White Supremacist “core vote” that has allowed the GOP to gain control of much of the U.S. governing structure notwithstanding the party’s extremist views and generally destructive agenda.
This is very reminiscent of how the “White Southern racist base” helped the Democrats maintain a stranglehold on government for the bulk of the mid-20th Century. Assume that the “Trump base” is 20% of the electorate and only 15% fit my foregoing description. That means without the racist White Supremacist vote, the GOP and Trump would have polled around 31% of the popular vote, not enough to win even with the idiosyncrasies of our electoral system that favor the GOP minority!