Judge Cites Education Briefs in Blocking Trump Order on Sanctuary Jurisdictions

By Mark Walsh — April 27, 2017 3 min read
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Two education-related briefs were cited by the federal district judge who blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order that aims to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary jurisdictions"—cities or other municipal governments that generally protect undocumented immigrants and decline to use their resources to help enforce federal immigration laws.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of San Francisco on Tuesday ruled in a challenge brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara counties in California to Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order stating that sanctuary jurisdictions would not be eligible for federal funds. The judge referenced, among other filings, friend-of-the-court briefs filed in support of the counties by California’s chief state school officer and various school districts and education groups.

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to withhold some funds from jurisdictions in California and elsewhere. The counties’ lawsuit challenged the president’s order on several federal constitutional grounds.

The Trump administration defended the order before Orrick by saying it was an exercise of the president’s “bully pulpit” to highlight a change in immigration policy, while the actual threats to withhold funds were modest in scope.

Orrick rejected that argument in his April 25 ruling in County of Santa Clara v. Trump.

“Although the defunding provision has not yet been enforced against any jurisdiction, governmental leaders have made numerous statements reaffirming the government’s intent to enforce the order and to use the threat of withholding federal funds as a tool to coerce states and local jurisdictions to change their policies,” he wrote.

Orrick went on to say that the executive order’s “broad directive and unclear terms, and the president’s and attorney general’s endorsement of them, has caused substantial confusion and justified fear among states and local jurisdictions that they will lose all federal grant funding at the very least.”

The judge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the president’s order.

Orrick cited friend-of-the-court briefs filed in support of the counties by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and by several California school districts and education groups.

“In contrast to the order’s assertion that sanctuary jurisdictions are a ‘public safety threat,’ the counties contend that, in their judgment and experience, sanctuary policies make the community safer by fostering trust between residents and local law enforcement,” the judge said. Such trust “also improves schools’ ability to provide quality education to all children,” he added.

Torlakson, in his brief, said the president’s executive order “threatens and undermines the stability of school children enrolled in California’s public schools.”

The order threatens some $8 billion in federal education aid to California by unconstitutionally seeking to have schools, districts, and county offices of education participate in federal education enforcement, the state superintendent’s brief says.

Meanwhile, the brief of the San Francisco and Santa Clara school districts, along with other districts and education groups, says that “by expansively targeting any ‘state’ or ‘political subdivision of a state,’ the executive order” is causing fear in schools.

“Without the security of knowing whether they will be targeted at school because of their or their families’ actual or perceived immigration status, students are increasingly fearful to attend school, and family members are increasingly reluctant to engage with school staff,” says the brief filed by the Orrick firm in San Francisco. (Orrick has had no relationship with the firm, which his grandfather co-founded and where his father was a partner.)

Trump reacted by stating in several Twitter posts that opponents of his executive order were “judge shopping” by bringing their challenge in a jurisdiction within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, “which has a terrible record of being overturned.”

(The 9th Circuit has a liberal reputation and is typically among the most overturned circuits by the Supreme Court, though it doesn’t always rank first on that list.)

“See you in the Supreme Court!” Trump tweeted. Others in his administration noted that, first, Orrick’s decision would be appealed—to the 9th Circuit.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.