City of Chicago v. Sessions
The City of Chicago, like many localities across the nation, receives federal funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“Byrne JAG”) Program to help the City enhance public safety as it sees fit. Byrne JAG grant amounts are calculated using a statutory formula keyed to the jurisdiction’s population and violent crime rate, and there are minimal limits on the public safety and criminal justice uses to which funds may be allocated. Despite this, in July 2017, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to mandate new funding conditions for every Byrne JAG grant in an attempt to coerce cities into changing their immigration policies. The City of Chicago brought suit against Sessions in federal district court challenging his authority to impose the new conditions. The district court ruled for Chicago, and the government appealed to the Seventh Circuit.
CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Seventh Circuit on behalf of members of Congress in support of Chicago. In our brief, we explained that in establishing the Byrne JAG grant program, Congress neither imposed the challenged conditions on grant recipients, nor authorized the Attorney General to impose them. Congress designed the program as a formula grant to ensure that states and localities would have maximum flexibility in determining how to best improve public safety in their respective jurisdictions. The Attorney General’s coercive conditions are not only at odds with this flexibility but also undermine public safety in cities like Chicago by decreasing trust and cooperation between the police force and crime victims and witnesses in many neighborhoods. Moreover, as we explained, the statute on which the Attorney General principally relies does not concern either the Byrne JAG program or the Attorney General and thus provides no support for what he is attempting to do here. Finally, we argued that the Attorney General’s attempt to administratively write into law new grant conditions runs afoul of fundamental constitutional principles. The Framers recognized the dangers of concentrated power in the hands of a single government branch, and thus gave the authority to impose conditions on the receipt of federal financial assistance to Congress. The Attorney General’s coercive actions cannot be squared with the constitutional separation-of-powers principles or the Framers’ decision to give Congress the power of the purse.
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit unanimously struck down the Attorney General’s coercive funding conditions. Echoing arguments made in CAC’s brief, the court condemned the Attorney General’s use of “the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement” and explained that “the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds.” The Court also acknowledged the crucial responsibility of the judiciary to act as a check on “usurpation of power,” noting that “we are a country that jealously guards the separation of powers, and we must be ever-vigilant in that endeavor.”