(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration can block cities and states from receiving Justice Department grants if they fail to help with federal immigration enforcement, a U.S. appeals court in Manhattan ruled, setting up a possible Supreme Court showdown.
Six states including New York and New Jersey sued in 2018 claiming the U.S. was trying to coerce states and cities into enforcing the administration’s immigration policies by illegally threatening to withhold the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, which are often used to buy equipment or pay for police overtime.
“We conclude that the plain language of the relevant statutes authorizes the attorney general to impose the challenged conditions,” U.S. Circuit Judge Reena Raggi wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel of the court. The appeals court ruling overturns an earlier decision ordering the Justice Department to release the grant money.
Wednesday’s decision goes against other federal appeals courts, which have limited the government’s power to block the funds, setting up a possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Manhattan court disagreed with rulings in similar cases by appeals courts based in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco upholding lower-court orders blocking some or all of the challenged conditions.
The ruling comes on the anniversary of the murder of the grants’ namesake, 22-year-old New York City police officer Edward Byrne, who was shot to death in his patrol car in 1988 while guarding a cooperating witness in a drug case.
“President Trump’s latest retaliation against his hometown takes away security funding from the number one terrorist target in America – all because we refuse to play by his arbitrary rules,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The Justice Department wants Byrne grant recipients to certify that they would provide information to immigration authorities, let the department know of release dates of illegal immigrants serving time for crimes and give federal officers access to illegal immigrants in prison.
“Today’s decision rightfully recognizes the lawful authority of the Attorney General to ensure that Department of Justice grant recipients are not at the same time thwarting federal law enforcement priorities,” a department spokesman said in a statement.
Byrne grants provide funding for “critical gaps” in state and local crime prevention programs, according to the Justice Department’s website. In 2019, the funds were available for overtime pay for officers and to help buy bulletproof vests and body cameras, among other uses. Congress has appropriated around $340 million annually for the program in recent years.
The Trump administration hailed Wednesday’s ruling as a victory for public safety.
“Since taking office, President Trump has made clear that his Administration would not allow these lawless jurisdictions to heartlessly inflict pain and suffering onto our communities,” the White House said in a statement.
The Supreme Court has recently delivered several decisions in favor of the Trump administration in cases involving immigration enforcement, with the justices voting 5-4 along ideological lines.
On Tuesday, the high court ruled the parents of a Mexican teenager fatally shot by a border patrol agent standing on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border can’t sue for damages. In 2018, the court upheld the president’s travel ban, which primarily targeted countries with majority-Muslim populations. And in January, the court cleared the way for the Trump administration to begin enforcing a wealth test on new immigrants while legal challenges go forward.
The case is State of New York v. U.S. Department of Justice, 19-267, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
(Updates with White House comment in 11th paragraph)
--With assistance from Henry Goldman and Laurel Calkins.
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