Justice Dept. Can’t Tie Police Funding to Help on Immigration, Judge Rules

The ruling handed down Wednesday came in one of several lawsuits that state and city officials in California have filed against the federal government arguing that it has overreached in trying to force local officers to help with immigration enforcement.

“The Trump administration cannot manipulate federal grant fund requirements to pressure states, counties or municipalities to enforce federal immigration laws,” Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, said last year when the state filed a lawsuit against the administration for denying funding to so-called sanctuary cities.

Last month, a federal district judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the federal government in that case, saying that the courts in other parts of the country had reached different conclusions and that “issues in this case will benefit from further development.”


Los Angeles has received millions of dollars under a federal program to promote community policing.

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

After that ruling, the Trump administration filed its own lawsuit against California over its own “sanctuary state” law, which prevents the police in many cases from holding people at the request of federal immigration agents, and limits the sharing of information about the release of some county jail inmates who are in the country illegally. In its suit, the federal government argues that the law makes it impossible for immigration officers to do their jobs. A hearing in the case is scheduled for late June.

Los Angeles has for years received millions of dollars under the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which is meant to promote community policing. The city police department has used the money for its Community Safety Partnership, which allows police officers to spend intensive time in neighborhoods, leading mentoring programs or coaching sports teams. The police say the program in the neighborhood of Watts has helped bring about a 50 percent reduction in violent crime and arrests.

In 2016, the city used the roughly $3 million it received to hire about 25 officers. City officials asked for the same amount of money in 2017, hoping to use it to hire more officers in a South Los Angeles neighborhood where violence had spiked.

But police departments around the country seeking a share of the $98 million pool of grant money last year were asked to demonstrate that they have a policy of alerting immigration agents before releasing inmates and giving immigration agents access to jails in order to conduct inmate interviews and review files. Departments were also asked to give federal authorities 48-hours notice before the release of any immigrants.

The Los Angeles Police Deparment did not do so, and was awarded no money. The Justice Department said the vast majority of those departments that received grants had signaled a “willingness to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.”

The city’s lawsuit argued that local governments had “an untenable choice: Commit to participating in federal civil immigration investigation and enforcement efforts, or sacrifice funds for public safety and community policing.”

In the ruling, Judge Real said that the funding rules violated the notion of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution and improperly tried to force local police officers to take on immigration enforcement, which legally is the responsibility of the federal government. The department’s action “upset the constitutional balance between state and federal power by requiring state and local law enforcement to partner with federal authorities,” he wrote. He added that Congress, not the executive branch, has the authority to control government spending.

Several other cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago, have also filed lawsuits against the administration’s attempt to tie federal funding to immigration enforcement, arguing that the government is overstepping its authority by creating new rules on grants without approval from Congress.

Local officials have also argued that forcing local police officers to cooperate on immigration enforcement could impair their ability to win cooperation from immigrants, who may fear being at risk of deportation by speaking to local law enforcement officers. Placing immigration enforcement requirements on grants meant to improve community policing, Mr. Feuer said, is “ironic — and at worst, very dangerous.”

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Trump v. California: The Biggest Legal Clashes

Clashes between states and the federal government are nothing new, said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University.

“This has happened throughout American history, but under the Obama and Trump administrations it has happened more often,” he said.

In the Obama years, red states tried to strike down the heart of the Affordable Care Act and succeeded in blocking a major immigration program. “Now we see the blue states battling Trump over sanctuary cities, the census and other issues,” Professor Somin said.

Greg Abbott, now the governor of Texas, used to say that his job description as the state’s attorney general was simple: “I go to the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, has said that his attitude is slightly different. “We don’t wake up in the morning looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration,” he said. “But we will do what is necessary to defend our values.”

Texas sued the Obama administration at least 48 times, according to a survey conducted by The Texas Tribune. The Trump administration is a little more than a year old, and California is already within striking distance of those numbers.

California has been doing well in court, winning more than a dozen rulings against the administration. Many of those victories came from federal judges in the state, and Mr. Sessions may have been referring to them when he complained about “ideological judging.”

The state is also likely to receive receptive hearings when its cases reach the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, which has been a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s criticism. The Supreme Court is a more attractive forum from the administration’s perspective, but the justices agree to hear very few cases.

The lawsuits all have distinct features, but collectively they pose fascinating questions about the Constitution’s allocation of power between the federal government and the states. They also give rise to a teachable moment in legal opportunism.

“Blue states and blue cities are making arguments about limited federal power that are traditionally associated with the political right,” Professor Somin said. “On the other hand, the Trump administration is staking out a very broad position on federal power.”


Yosemite National Park in California. The administration has sued to strike down a state law that made it harder for the federal government to sell or transfer federal lands.

Mike Nelson/EPA, via Shutterstock

Land Use

On Monday, the Trump administration sued to strike down a state law that made it harder for the federal government to sell or transfer federal lands by giving a state commission the right of first refusal.

The law was meant to protect the state’s natural resources, Mr. Becerra said. “Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder,” he said in a statement.

The administration’s legal arguments are substantial, drawing on the Constitution and the law under which California was admitted to the Union.

Article IV of the Constitution, which is concerned with the relationship between the federal government and the states, includes the Property Clause: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”

And the 1850 law admitting California to the Union, making it the 31st state, was explicit: “California is admitted into the Union upon the express condition that the people of said State, through their legislature or otherwise, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the public lands within its limits, and shall pass no law and do no act whereby the title of the United States to, and right to dispose of, the same shall be impaired or questioned.”

Professor Levinson said her preliminary assessment of the suit was that “it looks like the federal government has quite a strong argument.”

But Prof. Michael Blumm, who teaches at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., said “it isn’t clear why the federal government claims it’s not possible to recognize a right of first refusal and carry out its other obligations.”

He added, “Isn’t there some irony in a D.O.J. headed by an ardent states-rightser, Jeff Sessions, arguing for federal pre-emption of state authority under the Property Clause?”

California has not yet filed its response to the suit. Based on the Trump administration’s complaint, though, the state law appears to be in trouble.


A man arrested in an early morning ICE raid sat in a California field office. The state’s so-called sanctuary laws protecting unauthorized immigrants have drawn the attention of the federal government.

Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times

Sanctuary Laws

Last month, the Trump administration sued California over parts of three so-called sanctuary laws protecting unauthorized immigrants. “Immigration law is the province of the federal government,” Mr. Sessions said in announcing the suit. But, he added, “California has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers — to intentionally use every power it has to undermine duly-established immigration law in America.”

One of the challenged laws, for instance, prohibits state officials from telling federal ones when undocumented immigrants are to be released from state custody.

“The executive branch should be able to remove criminal aliens from a jail instead of your neighborhood,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement on Monday.

Mr. Becerra responded: “We’re not going to let the Trump administration coerce us into doing the federal government’s job of enforcing federal immigration law. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”

A second challenged law requires state officials to inspect some facilities that house people detained on behalf of the federal government. A third restricts employers from cooperating with immigration officials.

Legal experts differed about the strength of the administration’s suit. Professor Somin wrote that the legal questions were difficult but that “California ought to prevail on all three issues.”

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Prof. Josh Blackman, who teaches at South Texas College of Law, and Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the Cato Institute, a libertarian group, said the federal government seemed to have the better of the legal argument as to two of the three state laws.

“Resistance to unpopular federal laws — whether over tariffs or immigration, or marijuana, gambling, guns or a host of other areas of possible conflict — is permissible,” they wrote, “only within the bounds of federalism.”

The administration’s lawsuit seems likely to give rise to a split decision, with courts upholding some but not all of the state’s laws.

The Census

Last month, California sued the Trump administration over its decision to add a question about citizenship to the forms to be used in the 2020 census. Several other states have filed a separate suit.

The Constitution requires an “actual enumeration” of the nation’s residents every 10 years. The information gathered is used to allocate congressional seats and to disburse federal money.

“The federal government should have an accurate count of who can legally vote in our federal elections,” Mr. Sessions said on Monday.

California’s lawsuit said that adding a question on citizenship would depress participation and hurt communities with a high proportion of unauthorized immigrants. It said it has more to lose than any other state, as it has more foreign-born residents and noncitizens than any other.

The administration said the citizenship information was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but critics said that has not otherwise been a priority.

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that states may count all residents, whether or not they are eligible to vote, in drawing election districts. That is the method currently used by every state. Some conservative groups say only eligible voters should be considered in drawing districts.

Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places that have large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally — including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants and children. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.

The Supreme Court did not decide whether other methods of counting were permissible. Many political scientists say that the available information is not sufficient to count only eligible voters, and the new census question may have been added in part to gather such information.

The state’s lawsuit has a decent chance of success. The decision to alter the census form was sudden and consequential, and courts may be reluctant to allow such a drastic change.


“We don’t wake up in the morning looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.

Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sanctuary Cities

Last year, California sued the administration over its plans to deny federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities unless they begin cooperating with federal immigration agents.

“The Trump administration cannot manipulate federal grant fund requirements to pressure states, counties or municipalities to enforce federal immigration laws,” Mr. Becerra said at the time.

A Justice Department spokesman responded that the state was putting the welfare of unauthorized immigrants ahead of public safety.

The state lost a round in the case in March, when Judge William H. Orrick of the Federal District Court in San Francisco declined to issue a preliminary injunction. Judge Orrick, noting that courts around the nation had come to varying conclusions in similar suits, said “the issues in this case will benefit from further development.”

Professor Somin has written that attaching conditions to federal grants can be at odds with federalism.

“Some conservatives may cheer when the current administration uses this tool against sanctuary cities,” he wrote. “But they are likely to regret their enthusiasm if a liberal Democratic president uses the same tactic to force states to increase gun control, adopt a ‘common core’ curriculum or pursue liberal policies on transgender bathroom accommodations.”

It is hard to say whether the state will prevail in its suit, as much depends on how, when and why the federal government denies funding. But there is little question that some denials can give rise to constitutional problems.


In January, California won a major victory, persuading a judge to block the Trump administration’s efforts to shut down a program that shields some 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The Supreme Court turned down a hail-Mary appeal from the administration in February, and the case will now make its way up the court system in the usual way.

Mr. Trump ended the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, last September, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power by his predecessor and reviving the threat of deportation for immigrants who had been brought to the United States illegally as young children.

But Judge William H. Alsup ordered the administration to maintain major pieces of the program while legal challenges move forward, notably by requiring the administration to allow people enrolled in it to renew their protected status. The administration has not sought a stay of that injunction.

Judge Alsup ruled that the administration had abused its discretion and had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in rescinding the program. He acknowledged that presidents have broad powers to alter the policies of earlier administrations, but said the Trump administration’s justifications for rescinding the program did not withstand scrutiny.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Sessions expressed incredulity that the administration should not be able to rescind what he called “an unlawful policy intended to usurp Congress’s role in passing immigration laws.”

The Ninth Circuit is set to hear arguments in the case in May, and the state’s chances of winning in that court are good. But the Supreme Court may well hear an appeal, and there the state could face headwinds.


The afternoon commute in Los Angeles. The state has a waiver that allows it to enforce stronger air pollution standards than those set by the federal government.

Mario Tama/Getty Images


The next major court fight between California and the Trump administration may involve greenhouse gas emissions.

The state has a waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to enforce stronger air pollution standards than those set by the federal government.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has said he is dissatisfied with that state of affairs.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV last month.

On Monday, the agency took steps to challenge California’s waiver. Though the process may take some time, it is likely to produce another clash between the Trump administration and the state that has emerged as its most determined foe.

California, Mr. Becerra said, is “ready to file suit.”

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California Attorney General to Investigate Stephon Clark’s Killing


How Stephon Clark Was Killed by Police in His Backyard

Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed man, was shot by the police in his backyard in Sacramento on March 18. Police body camera and helicopter footage shows details of what happened.


Photo by Sacramento Police Department.

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Responding to public outcry over a police shooting in which an unarmed black man was killed in his own backyard in Sacramento, Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California said Tuesday his office would step in to oversee the investigation.

The shooting of Stephon Clark, 22, widely viewed in publicly released police videos, has triggered demonstrations and community anguish, the latest example of an African-American man killed by the police under ambiguous circumstances.

Mr. Becerra, speaking with city officials, including the mayor and police chief, announced that the California Department of Justice would also review the Sacramento police’s training and policies regarding the use of force.

Chief Daniel Hahn of the Sacramento Police Department said he welcomed the state’s involvement in the wake of “extremely high emotions, anger and hurt in our city.” He said his department would grant full access to state investigators.


Stephon Clark

Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

Mr. Clark was killed March 18 by officers responding to a report of a suspect breaking the windows of vehicles. Officers confronted Mr. Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s home, where he lived, at which point he advanced toward the officers while extending an object, according to an initial police statement.

Video from body cameras and a police helicopter overhead showed that officers shouted that Mr. Clark had a gun, and then fired 20 shots, continuing to shoot after he dropped to his hands and knees.

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