Tuesday’s judicial rebuke is also a blow to President Trump’s defense of his administration as it nears the 100-day mark on Saturday. With no major legislative accomplishments to offer the public, the White House has instead pointed to the flurry of executive orders signed by Trump as evidence of his success. This particular order, signed by Trump five days after taking office on January 20, aimed to fulfill his campaign pledges to crack down on illegal immigration and those sanctuary cities, a catch-all term for jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration agencies.
Santa Clara County and the city of San Francisco sued the Trump administration soon thereafter, alleging that the order went beyond what Section 1373 authorized. The jurisdictions also argued the new defunding provisions violated the Fifth Amendment’s due-process protections and the Tenth Amendment’s ban on federal commandeering of state powers. At stake for both the city and the county is federal funding, amounting to roughly $1.2 billion of San Francisco’s $9.6 budget and about 35 percent of Santa Clara’s total budget. Orrick noted the executive order “has caused budget uncertainty by threatening to deprive the counties of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants that support core services in their jurisdictions.”
In his ruling, Orrick noted the Justice Department tried to defend the executive order during oral arguments by offering a narrow interpretation of it. But the judge indicated he was unconvinced. “The government attempts to read out all of Section 9(a)’s unconstitutional directives to render it an ominous, misleading, and ultimately toothless threat,” he wrote. “It urges that Section 9(a) can be saved by reading the defunding provision narrowly and ‘consistent with law,’ so that all it does is direct the attorney general and [the homeland security] secretary to enforce existing grant conditions. But this interpretation is in conflict with the order’s express language and is plainly not what the order says.”
The Justice Department’s woes did not end there. Compounding their difficulties in defending the executive order were a series of public statements by Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which Orrick cited as evidence the federal government intended to broadly enforce the order.
“The president has called it ‘a weapon’ to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement, and his press secretary has reiterated that the president intends to ensure that ‘counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cities don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order,’” he wrote. “The attorney general has warned that jurisdictions that do not comply with Section 1373 would suffer ‘withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants,’ and the ‘claw back’ of any funds previously awarded.”