Seattle, Portland and New York City are suing the Trump administration over the president’s threats to withhold federal funds from so-called “anarchist jurisdictions.”
The cities say the administration lacks the authority to unilaterally add conditions to congressionally appropriated funds. They also say U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s designation of the cities as anarchist last month, based on any factors he deemed appropriate, was arbitrary and capricious.
“The Trump administration’s political threats against Seattle and other Democratic cities are unlawful and an abuse of federal power,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement Thursday.
Filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle, the lawsuit brought by the three cities takes aim at a Trump memo in September directing federal agencies to withhold funds to “anarchist jurisdictions” and at Barr’s subsequent designation of certain cities as anarchist.
It also targets an announcement by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) this month that it would consider applications for COVID-19 public transportation research grants “in accordance” with Trump’s memo, saying other attempts to carry out Trump’s orders are imminent.
The “anarchist jurisdiction” actions are the latest attempt by Trump to restrict federal funds to Democrat-led cities whose politics the president disagrees with. Earlier in his term, the president tried to cut funds to so-called “sanctuary cities,” like Seattle, that mostly don’t get involved in immigration enforcement. Those efforts have been mostly blocked by courts.
“We expect the president’s actions to be declared unlawful, as have his similar past attempts to remove federal funding,” Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement.
In targeting Seattle, Barr has cited Seattle’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area, which formed when the police largely abandoned a six-block area on Capitol Hill and which was cleared in July after about three weeks. He’s claimed the CHOP pushed the entire city into anarchy. Barr also has cited violent protests in Portland and efforts to cut New York City’s police budget.
Trump has denounced this summer’s protests against police brutality and systemic racism as part of his reelection campaign, blaming the unrest on local Democrats.
The White House actions are “wrong and designed to categorically delegitimize today’s civil rights movement for Black lives to advance yesterday’s failed law and order tricks,” Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González said, in a statement.
Thursday’s suit asks the court to declare Trump’s directives, Barr’s designations and the FTA’s action unlawful and unconstitutional, and to halt any other actions based on the directives.
The president’s memo didn’t contain “a single legal citation” undergirding his authority “to strip federal funding from the cities when he disagrees with their on-the-ground policing decisions or deems their budgeting choices unwise,” the suit says.
It alleges the Trump administration has violated “bedrock principles of American democracy,” including the separation of powers, states’ rights and due process.
The suit describes the Trump administration’s actions as “deadly serious” because cities rely on federal funds to provide services such as transportation, housing and emergency relief.
“The funding threat could not come at a worse time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged municipal finances, draining reserves and forcing painful budget cuts,” the suit says.