New York City took legal action Thursday to stop the Trump Administration from withholding funding for cities that the Justice Department designated as "anarchist jurisdictions."
The designation, applied in late September to NYC, Portland and Seattle, imperils billions of dollars in federal funding for the cash-strapped city.
"We're bringing this action because they have taken concrete steps - they have actually taken this 'anarchist' designation and started to include it in applications for federal grants," NYC Corporation Counsel James Johnson said at a Thursday morning news conference.
The lawsuit pulls no punches from the very first word.
"In an act offensive to both the Constitution and common sense, President Trump has called on the Attorney General to formally identify certain American cities as 'anarchist jurisdictions'—an oxymoronic designation without precedent in American jurisprudence—and has activated the entire federal bureaucracy to preclude such jurisdictions from receiving federal funds," the 51-page complaint filed in Seattle reads.
The lawsuit goes on to ridicule the designation, calling the president’s action “offensive to both the Constitution and common sense” — while also noting that the consequences of withholding federal money during a pandemic are “deadly serious.”
“I said weeks ago if the Trump administration persisted in trying to illegally take away funding from New York City we would take them to court, and we will beat them in court,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
He said the administration's move overstepped its authority, was arbitrary and capricious and violated cities' rights to police their streets and allocate their budgets.
Johnson said up to $12 billion in funds were possibly at risk.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, argues that unless Congress says otherwise, the president can’t add conditions to money Congress has appropriated. The cities say the designation was arbitrary and capricious, and based on vague and subjective factors. The lawsuit also alleges that the administration violated due process rights and the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which specifies that powers not given to the federal government — such as local policing authority — are reserved for the states.
“It is the Defendants, not the Cities, who are engaging in lawless behavior and threatening the democratic order established by the Framers,” the lawsuit said.
In one example cited in the lawsuit, the Federal Transit Administration announced this month that it will consider applications for a current COVID-19 public transportation research grant “in accordance” with the anarchist memo.
The Justice Department said the three cities were designated as “anarchist” jurisdictions because they met criteria including “whether a jurisdiction forbids the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction” and whether the city “disempowers or defunds police departments.”
For New York City, Attorney General William Barr cited “increased unrest, gun violence, and property damage” as the City Council cut $1 billion from the police department’s budget for next year.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
President Trump issued an order Sept. 2 giving the director of the Office of Management and Budget 30 days to issue guidance to federal agencies on restricting eligibility for federal grants for the cities on a prospective DOJ list.
Such grants make up a huge portion of NYC's already strapped annual budget.
In justifying its decision, the DOJ cited New York City's rising gun violence, cuts to the NYPD's budget, and moves by various district attorneys not to prosecute charges related to protests earlier this summer.
Read the lawsuit below or click here to open in a new window.