A divided U.S. appeals court on Wednesday struck down a key part of President Donald Trump’s contentious effort to crack down on cities and states that limit cooperation with immigration officials, saying an executive order threatening to cut funding for “sanctuary cities” was unconstitutional.
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Congress alone controls spending under the U.S. Constitution, and presidents do not have the power to withhold funding it approves to pursue their policy goals, the court majority said.
“By its plain terms, the executive order directs the agencies of the executive branch to withhold funds appropriated by Congress in order to further the administration’s policy objective of punishing cities and counties that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies,” wrote Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, joined by Judge Ronald Gould, who both were nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The court, however, also said the lower-court judge went too far when he blocked enforcement of Trump’s order nationwide after a lawsuit by two California counties — San Francisco and Santa Clara.
Thomas said there wasn’t enough evidence to support a nationwide ban, limited the injunction to California and sent the case back to the lower court for more arguments on whether a wider ban was warranted.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, called the ruling a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”
“The Justice Department remains committed to the rule of law, to protecting public safety, and to keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” he said.