Immigration and Citizenship

City of Chicago v. Barr

In City of Chicago v. Barr, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered whether the United States Attorney General can impose funding conditions on local jurisdictions that receive certain federal funding in order to coerce those jurisdictions into adopting immigration policies preferred by President Trump.

In Brief

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to impose funding conditions on local jurisdictions that receive certain federal funding in order to coerce those jurisdictions into adopting immigration policies preferred by President Trump.
Congress neither imposed the challenged conditions on grant recipients, nor authorized the Attorney General to impose them. Congress designed the program to ensure that states and localities would have maximum flexibility.
Sessions's coercive conditions are not only at odds with this flexibility, but also fundamental separation-of-powers principles. The Framers recognized the dangers of concentrated power, and thus gave the authority to impose conditions on the receipt of federal funds to Congress.

Case Summary

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 granted a preliminary injunction, 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 were not only at odds with this flexibility but also undermined 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 relied did not concern either the Byrne JAG program or the Attorney General and thus provided no support for what he was attempting to do. Finally, we argued that the Attorney General’s attempt to administratively write into law new grant conditions ran 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 could not be squared with the constitutional separation-of-powers principles or the Framers’ decision to give Congress the power of the purse.

In April 2018, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit unanimously struck down the Attorney General’s coercive funding conditions and upheld the district court’s preliminary injunction. 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.”

On remand, the district court granted a permanent injunction, but stayed the nationwide scope of the injunction. The government appealed again. In November, CAC again filed an amicus brief on behalf of members of Congress in support of Chicago, reiterating the statutory and separation-of-powers arguments we made in our prior brief.

The Seventh Circuit once again determined that the Attorney General cannot use such conditions to pursue the policy objectives of the executive branch. The Seventh Circuit reiterated its view that the power of the purse and local law enforcement are the prerogatives of Congress and local governments, respectively, and that the arguments the Attorney General made in support of his interpretation of the Byrne JAG Act “cannot withstand scrutiny.”

Case Timeline

  • January 4, 2018

    CAC files amicus brief

    7th Circuit Amicus Brief
  • January 19, 2018

    Seventh Circuit hears oral argument on the preliminary injunction

  • April 19, 2018

    Seventh Circuit issues its ruling

    Seventh Circuit Decision
  • November 15, 2018

    CAC files amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs who are seeking a permanent injunction

    7th Circuit Amicus Brief
  • April 10, 2019

    Seventh Circuit hears oral arguments on the permanent injunction

  • April 30, 2020

    Seventh Circuit issues its opinion affirming the permanent injunction

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