New York v. U.S. Department of Justice; City of New York v. Whitaker
Like many localities around the country, the plaintiffs in these cases receive federal funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“Byrne JAG”) Program to help them enhance public safety as they see 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 recipients into changing their immigration policies. The states of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia, and the City of New York sued Sessions in federal district court challenging his authority to impose the new conditions.
CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Southern District of New York on behalf of members of Congress in support of the plaintiffs. 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 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.
In November 2018, the district court struck down the challenged conditions, echoing the separation of powers arguments made in our brief. As the court explained, “the separation of powers acts as a check on tyranny and the concentration of power.”