Seattle, New York and Portland Sue Over an Anarchy Designation
President Trump had taken steps to cut off some federal funding from cities that have been the site of protests against racism. He had labeled certain cities as "anarchy jurisdictions" in an attempt to keep them from receiving certain law enforcement grants. Now, these cities are trying to fight back in court. New York City, Seattle and Portland have sued the federal government seeking to challenge this designation so that they can continue to receive the federal grants.
This Makes it Harder to Get Federal Grant Funding
President Trump has officially designated these cities as promoting anarchy. His Attorney General William Barr has cited a number of different actions that he believes support that designation. According to the Attorney General, even the New York City Council's move to cut some police funding would be significant enough for it to receive this designation. Trump claimed that these cities interfered with the function of their police departments during the cities protests after the death of George Floyd.
The Trump Administration seems to be selective with the cities that it selects for this designation. Protests have happened in a number of cities after Floyd's death. In fact, these protests started in Minneapolis, which was the city where Floyd was killed. There were also tense protests in Kenosha after Jacob Blake was shot by police. However, these cities are found in states that are close in the presidential election. In other words, the Trump Administration appears to be selectively using this weapon against cities found in "Blue States."
The stakes in these lawsuits are high. Not only would the jurisdictions lose out on law enforcement money, but they could be cut off from numerous federal programs. There is talk that there could b as much as $12 billion at stake if President Trump's designation is allowed to stand. This could even include transportation and health programs. Thus, these cities have every incentive to take strong legal steps in court to fight the designation. They are already facing significant budgetary uncertainty due to COVID-19. Now, the possible loss of federal money may make their fiscal situations even more severe at a time when bailout money in the form of stimulus is not forthcoming.
The Trump Administration has now begun to include an anarchy designation on these cities' application for federal grants. Since grant awards are competitive, it is likely that this will cost these cities because their applications will be viewed less favorably. They will miss out on this funding to other cities who do not have the same designation. This is why these cities have decided to file the lawsuit, since they are suffering concrete consequences now.
The Lawsuits Claim that this Act is Unconstitutional
The lawsuits have been filed on Constitutional grounds and accuse the Administration of exceeding the powers of the Executive Branch and trying to take over the powers of Congress. Specifically, the cities claim that the Administration cannot act to impose its own will once Congress has already appropriated the money. The cities contend that the President is not allowed to add any further conditions to the money unless Congress explicitly gives him the authority.
Moreover, the cities also argue that the federal government is interfering with their police powers. The Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution reserves any power for the states that is not explicitly given to the federal government. Ordinarily, one of these things would be the power of the state to police its own citizens. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government's attempt to make it more difficult to get funding due to issues with policing is an unconstitutional interference in their own police power.
This would not be the first time that Seattle and Portland have gone to court with the Trump Administration over attempted designations that would make it harder for these cities to get federal funding. The Administration also tried to label these jurisdictions as sanctuary cities, which would have also restricted federal funding. Seattle and Portland successfully challenged that designation in court. The Trump Administration has not had a particularly good track record when it comes to its attempts to restrict federal funding because courts have generally believed that it is Congress that decides how money is spent and the Executive Branch does not have the legal right to change or disrupt the work of Congress that is committed to it by the Constitution.
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