U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

3rd Circuit Hears Philly Sanctuary City Case

As former attorney general Jeff Sessions was headed out the door, government lawyers were in federal court trying to salvage his efforts against sanctuary cities.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument from the Justice Department that day, but it sounded like a losing one. Other courts have already said the administration cannot withhold funds from cities for not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.

In arguing City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General of the United States, the federal government had an uphill battle when Sessions was there. But he resigned literally the same day.

Public Safety

Judge Michael Baylson had ruled for the city, saying Sessions violated the Constitution and other laws by cutting off funds under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.

On appeal, the Justice Department said cities must follow federal immigration directives. Attorney Katherine Allen argued that it is a matter of public safety.

"That simply won't work if states are releasing the individuals without notifying the federal government," she said. "It's much safer for the federal government to transfer custody of these individuals than try to pick them up on the street, which poses threat to the general public."

Neal Katyal, representing Philadelphia, said the Justice Debarment does not have the authority to cut off the federal funds. He said it's a mandatory program.

"It's not one that gives the attorney general discretion," he said. "If you adopt their discretion, you do massive destruction."

"Massive Destruction"

Officials from 27 other cities filed briefs in support of Philadelphia. They said the threat to sanctuary cities could make their "challenges insurmountable."

"At the heart of these policies lies the concern that without the cooperation of immigrant communities, local governments will be unable to investigate and prevent crime effectively because, the moment immigrant victims and witnesses begin to fear that their local police will deport them, cooperation with their police then ceases," the city officials said.

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