PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A federal judge has granted Philadelphia’s request for an injunction against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ruling he cannot withhold a federal law enforcement grant based on the city’s policies toward immigrants.
In a 128-page opinion, Judge Michael Baylson found that the city is in compliance with federal law– “Philadelphia is a not a ‘sanctuary city,” he wrote– and that Sessions lacked the authority to impose additional conditions on receipt of a $1.7 Million dollar JAG grant to the police department.
City officials hailed the ruling.
“This is a this is a very, very significant day in the city of Philadelphia,” said city solicitor Sozi Tulante.
“Today’s ruling benefits every single Philadelphia resident,” added Mayor Jim Kenney. “Our police officers and criminal justice partners will receive much-needed federal funding, and our City will be able to continue practices that keep our communities safe and provide victims and witnesses the security to come forward.”
The city asked for the injunction after the Justice Department threatened the grant money unless the city changed its policy and provided 48 hour notice of the release of certain categories of prisoners and allowed federal agents to interrogate suspects in local jails.
Those demands, Baylson wrote, “were issued without appropriate authority under the Administrative Procedure Act, a statute enacted by Congress many years ago which regulates the matters on which federal government agencies, of which the Department of Justice is one, may issue conditions.”
Tulante says Philadelphia is the first, of four cities challenging the new Justice Department demands, to win on that issue.
“This is the provision the administration has most wanted to thrust on cities since last year, through the presidential campaign,” said Tulante.
Baylson’s ruling took a poetic turn in the end.
“Federalism is not an island floating in some distant ocean,” he wrote. “Principles of federalism allow a city to deal with local issues as it sees best. The supremacy clause of the Constitution gives the federal government the final say – if, as, and when there is a conflict. In this case, given Philadelphia’s unique approach to meshing the legitimate needs of the federal government to remove criminal aliens with the City’s promotion of health and safety, there is no conflict of any significance.”
He said Philadelphia’s injunction request had met the tests of “probability of success on the merits, irreparable harm, a balancing of equities, preserving the status quo, and the public interest.”
The Justice Department says it’s reviewing the ruling but maintained its stance that “city policies undermine public safety and law enforcement.”
“In Philadelphia, 2017 homicides have already eclipsed 2016’s numbers,” spokesperson Devin O’Malley wrote in an emailed statement.
“I don’t know what that has to do with immigrants,” Mayor Kenney responded. “It has to do with the fact that we can’t control the flow of guns into our cities and states. If they want to blame somebody for homicides in our society, they should look in the mirror because they won’t do anything about guns.”