President Trump signing an executive order, 1/25/17
Credit: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann/Flickr

On January 25th, Trump signed an executive order that included the administration’s intent to pull federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.” Yesterday, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of California temporarily froze it, making the president 0 for 3 in the courts on executive orders.

Recently, I wrote about the problems this one would face in court. Roger Parloff described the order’s flaws as “multilayered, fundamental, and unsalvageable.”

[It] appears to offend the principles of separation of powers, due process, and interpretations of both the Tenth Amendment (establishing that the federal government only has powers specifically delegated to it by the Constitution) and limits on Congress’s spending power…

But as Derek Hawkins reports, Judge Orrick didn’t even get to those problems. Perhaps understanding the constitutional issues this executive order faces, the administration’s lawyers chose not to defend it on those grounds. Instead, they developed a rather bizarre approach.

In court, the government tried to make the case that the order doesn’t actually do anything, at least not at the moment, because the administration has yet to define what exactly a sanctuary city is or threaten any particular jurisdiction with a loss of funds. It was their way of convincing the judge to toss out the lawsuit on the grounds that no city or county has yet suffered any harm.

In his ruling, Judge Orrick outlined how that defense was at odds with many public statements made by the president and his staff.

In his ruling, the judge pointed to a February interview between Trump and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, in which Trump called the order “a weapon” to use against cities that tried to defy his immigration policies…

The judge also cited news conferences in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to “claw back any funds” awarded to a city that violated the order…

On top of that, the judge said, Trump and Sessions had repeatedly held up San Francisco as an example of the supposed dangers sanctuary cities pose to ordinary, law-abiding citizens because of the killing there of Kathryn Steinle in July, 2015 allegedly by a man deported five times.

Apparently no one in the White House actually read the judge’s ruling or discussed it with their lawyers because they immediately issued a press release that validated all of those statements. For example:

In its statement Tuesday, the administration cast the ongoing battle over immigration enforcement in “sanctuary cites” as one “between sovereignty and open borders, between the rule of law and lawlessness, and between hard-working Americans and those who would undermine their safety and freedom.”

Citing instances of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in”sanctuary cities,” the White House blasted local officials for enacting such policies, saying the authors now “have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.”

Once again, they specifically referred to the killing of Kathryn Steinle.

Beyond how bizarre and inappropriate it is for the White House to accuse a local government of having “the blood of dead Americans on their hands,” that statement is in direct conflict with the argument their own lawyers just attempted to make. It only serves to reinforce the ruling issued by Judge Orrick.

As we saw with the travel ban, the malevolence of this crew is once again checked by their incompetence.

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