The cities of Seattle, Portland, and New York filed a federal lawsuit today challenging President Trump’s Memorandum titled “Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds That Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities” ordering federal agencies to withhold federal grant dollars from so-called “anarchist jurisdictions,” and the Attorney General’s unlawful designation of the cities as “anarchist.”
The cities argue the executive branch lacks authority to add conditions to congressionally appropriated funds without congressional authorization, and that the designation was made in an arbitrary and capricious manner based on a set of vague and subjective factors entirely within the U.S. Attorney General’s discretion.
In the lawsuit, the three cities challenge the proposed action on five different grounds, including violation of the Separation of Powers and the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The cities ask that the Court remove the cities’ “anarchist jurisdiction” designations and prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice and Office of Management and Budget from carrying out the administration’s scheme.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “On top of the bungled federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration is now attempting to strip Seattle of funding which could be used to help our residents during the pandemic in many important ways. This lawsuit was necessary to protect our City’s interests, and we expect the president’s actions to be declared unlawful, as have his similar past attempts to remove federal funding.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said, “The Trump administration’s political threats against Seattle and other Democratic cities are unlawful and an abuse of federal power. I am confident the Courts will reign him in again. Seattle and people across America need help fighting a pandemic that has claimed over 220,000 American lives, fixing an economic crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans unemployed, and bringing America together during this civil rights reckoning. Instead, the President chooses to ignore science, divide Americans, and threaten the lifeline for many struggling in this time. It’s immoral, unconstitutional, and shameful that we are forced to expend any resources on this political theater.”
Councilmember M. Lorena González said, “The Trump Administration’s action is wrong and designed to categorically delegitimize today’s civil rights movement for Black lives to advance yesterday’s failed law and order tricks. The Seattle City Council remains committed to transformational change to policing that will prioritize the lives of Black, brown and Indigenous Seattle residents. Manipulating federal grant dollars in this fashion is perverse and morally corrupt. The City of Seattle remains united in defeating Trump’s intent to deny our residents federal funding, during a COVID-19 recession, for much needed transit, affordable housing, education and human services.”
The President’s memorandum states the “Federal Government provides States and localities with hundreds of billions of dollars every year, which fund a wide array of programs, such as housing, public transportation, job training, and social services,” and declares that the “[Trump] Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund” what it deems “anarchist jurisdictions.”
Federal funding is a significant portion of the City of Seattle’s 2020 Adopted Budget. Seattle has budgeted for over $236 million in federal grants for the fiscal year. For COVID-19 response in 2020 and beyond, the City was awarded $177 million of federal grants. These federal grants largely consist of grants for social programs, transportation, and Coronavirus Aid.
In 2020, approximately 14% of the Transportation Department’s funding is from federal sources, as is almost a quarter of the Human Services Department budget, which provides critical safety-net services for the most vulnerable residents. Seattle received over $18 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. Seattle has also been granted over $3.8 million from the Emergency Solutions Grant Program, about $3.4 million from the Home Investment Partnerships Program, and over $3.3 million from the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS in 2020.
The cities of Seattle and Portland have previously prevailed against the Trump Administration’s similar attempt to withhold congressionally appropriated grant dollars in retaliation for policies that support and welcome immigrant and refugee communities.
The City of New York has defeated attempts by the Trump Administration to add an illegal citizenship question to the census, to take SNAP food assistance away from millions of adults, and to discriminate in the provision of medical care and federal health funding based on religious and moral grounds.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington today.