Observers were pretty amazed earlier this month when the 9th Circuit, of all places, handed President Trump a win in a sanctuary city case. I got curious because previous cases made it clear the Trump administration could not take away funding, or place extra conditions on federal grant money, or commandeer state employees into enforcing federal immigration laws.
It turns out, according to a 9th Circuit three-judge panel, all the Trump administration had to do was change the grant process to award bonus points to cities focusing on illegal immigration and promising to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. In contrast, Los Angeles - whose case was before the 9th Circuit panel - chose “building trust and respect” as its focus area and declined to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in such matters as turning over fugitives for deportation.
The 9th Circuit panel noted that no federal funds were withdrawn from Los Angeles, nor was Los Angeles automatically barred from receiving federal policing grants because of sanctuary city and state policies. The administration did not add extra conditions to the grant; it merely prioritized money to locales that would serve the administration’s policies better, something which L.A. and California had been free to do. Thus, the administration’s bonus point system complied with all the requirements that had been built up over time in case law interpreting the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution [Article I, Section 8, Clause 1].
The panel went on to say that merely awarding additional points to grant applications that emphasize lawful purposes did not amount to coercion. No city or state laws were overturned in the application process. There was no coercion and no Tenth Amendment violation, the panel said. The panel concluded by saying the administration had acted within its statutory authority, that Congress had been silent on the precise question presented, and that the administration had acted reasonably - not arbitrarily or capriciously - in prioritizing recipients of federal grants closer in line with administration policies.
Los Angeles received over $3 million from the police grant program at issue the year before the case arose. The latest report I could find indicated the city is reviewing the panel’s decision. Conceivably, Los Angeles could appeal to the full 9th Circuit or to the Supreme Court. Stay tuned.