SEATTLE A federal appeals court on Friday gave President Trump a rare legal victory in his efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, upholding the Justice Departments decision to give preferential treatment in awarding community policing grants to cities that cooperate with immigration authorities.
The 2-to-1 opinion overturned a nationwide injunction issued last year by a federal judge in Los Angeles. The appeals court said awarding extra points in the application process to cities that cooperate was consistent with the goals of the grant program created by Congress.
The Department is pleased that the Court recognized the lawful authority of the Administration to provide favorable treatment when awarding discretionary law-enforcement grants to jurisdictions that assist in enforcing federal immigration laws, the Justice Department said in an emailed statement.
Federal courts have blocked some efforts by the administration to withhold money from sanctuary cities, including an executive order issued by the president in 2017 that would have barred them from receiving federal grants except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.
Courts also barred the Justice Department from imposing new immigration enforcement-related conditions on Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, the biggest source of federal funding to state and local jurisdictions.
The ruling Friday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Seattle, concerned a different program, Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grants, which are used to hire police officers. Previously, the Justice Department had given extra points to cities that agreed to hire veterans; that operated early intervention systems to identify officers with personal issues; or that had suffered school shootings.
In 2017, under the attorney general then, Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department for the first time decided extra points would go to cities that listed immigration enforcement as a priority or that certified they would cooperate with federal immigration authorities by allowing them access to detainees in city jails and giving them 48 hours notice before an undocumented immigrant was released from custody.
Los Angeles applied for a grant that year, but declined to list immigration enforcement as a priority it listed building community trust instead or to make the certification. It failed to win the grant and sued.
The Justice Department had introduced conditions that impermissibly coerced grant applicants to enforce federal immigration law, the city said. It also said that the immigration-related conditions were contrary to the goals for which Congress had approved the grant money: to get more police officers on the beat, developing trust with the public.
The judges in the majority Friday, Sandra Ikuta and Jay Bybee, both appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, rejected that argument.
Cooperation relating to enforcement of federal immigration law is in pursuit of the general welfare, and meets the low bar of being germane to the federal interest in providing the funding to address crime and disorder problems, and otherwise ... enhance public safety, Judge Ikuta wrote.
Several other jurisdictions did win funding without agreeing to the Justice Departments immigration enforcement preferences, she noted.
Judge Kim Wardlaw, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, dissented, calling the majoritys opinion Orwellian in the way it tried to equate federal immigration enforcement with enhanced community policing.
Nothing in the congressional record nor the Act itself remotely mentions immigration or immigration enforcement as a goal, she wrote. In the quarter-century of the Acts existence, Congress has not once denoted civil immigration enforcement as a proper purpose for COPS grants.
The Los Angeles city attorneys office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday.
Supporters of sanctuary cities say that encouraging local police departments to participate in federal immigration enforcement is counterproductive: People will be less likely to report crimes if they believe they will be deported for doing so.
But the Ninth Circuits opinion found that to be a question of policy, not law, said David Levine, a professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law.
What the Justice Department was doing before, they were trying to force sanctuary cities to do things, and yank money from them retroactively if they didnt, Mr. Levine said. Theyve gotten a little more sophisticated now. Theyre saying, You dont have to take this money, but if you want it, it comes with strings attached.
Thats a well-understood way the federal government gets states to do things, he added. You dont use a stick, you use a carrot.