Local Government Amicus Brief Challenges Unconstitutional Federal Grant Conditions

Washington, DC.—On August 31, 2017, 37 cities and counties, The United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, International Municipal Lawyers Association, and International City/County Management Association are filing an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  The brief, authored by the County of Santa Clara, California in City of Chicago v. Sessions, urges the Court to grant the City of Chicago’s motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of new federal grant conditions recently announced by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  See here for the brief.

The new DOJ conditions target the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, the leading source of federal grant funds for law enforcement, crime prevention, correctional, prosecution, indigent defense, and crime victim and witness programs. The new conditions would disqualify state and local governments from receiving these funds unless they agree to assist the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law. The amicus brief argues on behalf of local governments nationwide that these unconstitutional and unlawful conditions undermine the ability of local law enforcement agencies to carry out their own considered judgments about how best to keep their communities safe.

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors stands with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and unequivocally supports Chicago’s lawsuit challenging the restrictions the Justice Department is placing on Byrne JAG funding,” said Conference CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran.   “These restrictions are unlawful, going way beyond the limited, largely administrative authority that Congress provided to the Attorney General in the Byrne JAG statute; unconstitutional, violating the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution; and represent an unwarranted federal intrusion into local policing practices that will jeopardize public safety,” Cochran continued.

The diverse group of local government entities and organizations that joined the amicus brief argue that local governments must maintain discretion to develop law enforcement policies tailored to the needs of their communities. Many cities and counties around the country have decided that limiting their involvement in federal immigration enforcement best promotes public safety by empowering all community members to report crimes and serve as witnesses, avoiding creating a class of “silent victims” who feel local law enforcement doesn’t serve them. In fact, the brief cites evidence that communities where local police do not engage in immigration enforcement—including major cities like Chicago—have lower crime rates than those that do.

DOJ’s new grant conditions would force local governments to either abandon the policies that they have adopted to increase community trust and lower crime rates, or lose their main source of federal funding for critical law enforcement programs that help achieve these goals.

The cities, counties, and organizations that signed the brief are:

The County of Santa Clara, California; the City of Austin, Texas; the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts; the City of Chelsea, Massachusetts; the City and County of Denver, Colorado;  the District of Columbia; El Paso County, Texas; the City of Houston, Texas; the International City/County Management Association; the International Municipal Lawyers Association; the City of Iowa City, Iowa; the City of Ithaca, New York; King County, Washington; the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts; the City of Los Angeles, California; the City of Madison, Wisconsin; the City of Menlo Park, California; the Metropolitan Area Planning Council; the National Association of Counties; the National League of Cities; the City of New York, New York; the City of Oakland, California; the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the City of Portland, Oregon; the City of Providence, Rhode Island; the City of Rochester, New York; the City of  Sacramento, California; the City of Salinas, California; the City and County of San Francisco, California; the City of San José, California; the City of Santa Ana, California; the County of Santa Cruz, California; the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico; the City of Seattle, Washington; the City of Somerville, Massachusetts;  the County of Sonoma, California; the City of Syracuse, New York; Travis County, Texas; the City of Tucson, Arizona; the City of Union City, New Jersey; The United States Conference of Mayors; and the City of West Hollywood, California.