It has been somewhat lost among all his other bluster, and more recently by the diversion of his air strike against Syria, but Trump has reiterated his threat to withhold federal monies from so-called “Sanctuary” cities and states. (As many people have pointed out, the sudden onset of humanitarianism that purportedly prompted those airstrikes has yet to prompt a willingness to accept children fleeing the hellhole that is today’s Syria.)
Trump’s threats are evidently as empty as his compassion. Talking Points Memo reports that, thanks to a Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit brought by Republicans opposed to the ACA, Trump can’t withhold funds from states acting humanely. It would be illegal.
File under “be careful what you wish for”….
In 2012, the Supreme Court forced the Obama administration to make Medicaid expansion voluntary for states instead of mandatory, ruling that when the federal government “threatens to terminate other significant independent grants as a means of pressuring the States to accept” a federal policy, it is unconstitutionally coercive.
Conservative groups that celebrated this victory over “infringement on state sovereignty by the federal government” may now be dismayed to learn that it could throw a wrench into the Trump administration’s current plan to punish sanctuary cities.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently warned local officials that continued refusal to co-operate with federal immigration authorities would jeopardize approximately $4 billion dollars in unrelated grants; those grants currently support local programs addressing everything from human trafficking, sexual assault, and gang violence to mental health, gun crimes and various public safety issues.
Sessions evidently neglected to research the Administration’s authority to follow through on that threat.
Stripping the cities and counties of this funding, however, is easier said than done. Doing so could violate the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights against federal intrusion, and a number of Supreme Court cases, including the 2012 case that struck down Obamacare’s mandatory Medicaid expansion, legal experts warn.
“It may be unconstitutional on several grounds,” said George Washington University Law School professor John Banzhaf III.
Banzhaf argues that U.S. law dating back to the mid-1800s bars the government from “commandeering” local officials to enforce federal law in almost all instances. The 2012 Supreme Court ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius expanded on this principle, holding that “states could not be required to expand Medicaid programs under threat of a loss of federal funds—the same coercive method threatened by Sessions—except where the threat was one mandated by Congress and signed into law, not a mere presidential order,” Banzhaf said.
Two other cases–one in 1987 and one from 1997–reinforce the limits on federal coercive power.
In the 1987 decision South Dakota v. Dole — which concerned a government attempt to cut highway funding to states that tried to lower the federal drinking age — the Court said the federal government can only cut grants related to the policy they are trying to enforce. Though the federal government’s argument trumped the state’s in that case, the ruling significantly narrowed the kind of funding the federal government can withhold when attempting to incentivize local governments to carry out a certain policy….
Sessions has now indicated that future grants will be conditioned upon compliance with federal immigration law, a tacit admission that– his threats notwithstanding–he cannot reach previous awards issued without such provisions.
I’m sure those staunch defenders of states’ rights–the ones who were so sincere when they explained that their opposition to civil rights laws had nothing to do with racial animus–will applaud this current application of federalism doctrine.
On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their applause….