Appellate court rules defunding of sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional'

In a rebuke to the Trump administration, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Aug. 1 ruled that President Donald Trump’s attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions violates the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling permanently bars the Trump administration from enforcing a key provision of the president’s January 2017 executive order on sanctuary cities in Santa Clara County or anywhere in California.

In the decision, the court affirmed that the executive order’s key provision is unconstitutional, noting, “Not only has the Administration claimed for itself Congress’s exclusive spending power, it has also attempted to coopt Congress’s power to legislate.” The court concluded that “there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority.”

The county was the first jurisdiction to seek emergency relief from the executive order. In November 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California issued an injunction permanently blocking implementation of the executive order’s key provision. The Trump administration appealed, and counsel from the county argued the appeal before the Ninth Circuit in April.

“This is a victory for taxpayers,” said Joe Simitian, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, whose District 5 includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. “Santa Clara County taxpayers send their dollars to Washington with the reasonable expectation that those dollars will come back from the federal government to do good work here. Withholding federal funds to which folks are otherwise entitled simply to punish or threaten jurisdictions with a different point of view is patently unlawful.”

According to Supervisor Dave Cortese, the “county’s diversity is our strength, and we are proud to stand firm against threats to local health and safety, no matter where they come from. We are steadfast in our commitment to serving our community and protecting the constitutional principles underpinning our democracy.”

County Counsel James R. Williams said the Ninth Circuit joined with courts across the country in holding that the Trump administration’s “unconstitutional abuses of power cannot stand.”

“The Ninth Circuit decision is a victory for the separation-of-powers principles at the core of our nation’s Constitution.” Williams said. “Put simply: The president cannot use the threat of defunding as a weapon to force local governments to abandon policies that make their communities safer.”

The Ninth Circuit also affirmed an injunction against implementation of the executive order defunding provision anywhere in California and asked the District Court to consider additional facts regarding whether a nationwide injunction should be granted.

The executive order directs federal officials to designate certain state and local governments as “sanctuary jurisdictions” and to deny them federal funding or take other actions against them. With the command, Santa Clara County faced the threatened loss of more than $1.7 billion in federal funding that it relies on each year to provide services and safety-net assistance to residents.

For more information on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and its responsibilities, visit

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