“This is a figment of Donald Trump’s troubled imagination,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters before the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. “The only anarchy in this country is coming from the White House.”
Trump instructed Attorney General William Barr last month to designate the cities “anarchist jurisdictions” following racial justice protests ignited by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Federal funds to the cities should be cut to the maximum extent possible, he said in a presidential memorandum, which is referred to in the lawsuit as the “Anarchist Memo.”
The suit called Trump’s action “offensive to both the Constitution and common sense” — and “an oxymoronic designation without precedent in American jurisprudence.” Yet the consequences of cutting off funding for cities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, are “deadly serious,” the suit declares.
The designation could cost the cities — all run by Democratic mayors — $12 billion in federal funds, even though the cities pump a significant amount of taxes into federal coffers.
“It is the Defendants, not the Cities, who are engaging in lawless behavior and threatening the democratic order established by the Framers,” the lawsuit says. “The Defendants’ actions violate bedrock principles of American democracy: separation of powers, federalism, and due process.”
The suit calls the branding of the cities “arbitrary and capricious,” and argued that without congressional approval, the president doesn’t have the authority to add conditions to funding that lawmakers have deemed appropriate. Nor does he have the authority to use funding as a cudgel to manipulate policing by states and their localities, the suit declares.
Trump’s memo, which accused the three cities of “permitting anarchy … and destruction,” gave local officials no prior notice of the designation, nor were they given any opportunity to respond. The memo cited no legal authority for the action.
The suit also names Barr, the Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf among the plaintiffs. It demands that the “anarchist jurisdiction” designations be removed and that an order be issued to stop the Justice Department and OMB from carrying out Trump’s orders to cut funds.
After the suit was filed, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called the Trump administration’s “political threats” against the cities “unlawful and an abuse of federal power. It’s immoral, unconstitutional and shameful that we are forced to expend any resources on this political theater,” she said in a statement.
The Justice Department and White House have yet to comment on the suit.