At the suggestion of a federal judwednesday ge, lawyers on both sides of the main court battle over President Trump’s order to cut off federal funds for “sanctuary cities” are working together on a way to keep that approach on hold for at least a month. Discussions on how to phrase such an agreement were going on Wednesday, it is understood.
“Sanctuary cities” are local governments that refuse to help federal officials round up undocumented immigrants. The Trump executive order, which is part of the Administration wide-ranging effort to deport immigrants illegally in the country, could threaten the loss of millions of dollars of federal aid to scores of local governments.
Although the President and Attorney General Jeff Sessions reacted angrily last week when U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of San Francisco temporarily blocked enforcement of the presidential order, government lawyers have held off on any effort to get the judge’s ruling lifted while they pursued a possible appeal.
At a session Tuesday afternoon, Justice Department lawyers told the judge it was “highly unlikely” that they would seek a postponement of the court ruling at this time, but they also said that they could not “bind the government” to withhold such a maneuver. Those comments were relayed in a docket entry by the judge on Wednesday describing what had happened at the meeting.
The government lawyers want more time to prepare further filings in the court case as it continues, but the judge noted that lawyers for California local governments challenging the president’s order expressed worry that the government might use the time to seek a “stay” of the Orrick order.
As a result, the judge noted that he had suggested that the two sides jointly prepare a document that would commit the government to hold off. When both sides agreed, the judge said he would give the federal lawyers another month – until early June — to file documents based on such a commitment. The lawyers were holding talks on Wednesday on how to write such a commitment (in the form of a “stipulation”).
In another development at Tuesday’s discussion with the lawyers, the judge did not order a specific timetable on how he would handle a specific claim that he had not ruled on last week. That is a claim by the local government of San Francisco that Congress acted unconstitutionally in enacting a law that the Trump Administration has used to bolster its authority to cut off federal money to non-cooperating “sanctuary cities.” It is understood that, since the judge has blocked enforcement of the Trump order for the time being, San Francisco’s lawyers decided not to press the judge on that constitutional question at the present time.
Last week, the judge said that constitutional question needs to be developed further in legal briefs before he would be prepared to rule on it. (Tbe government has used that law, which bars at least some forms of interference by local governments, with federal officers’ immigration enforcement, as a condition for getting access to money in specified federal programs.)
While the controversy over Judge Orrick’s ruling does seem likely, next month or later, to move on to a federal appeals court at the initiative of the Trump Administration, the underlying question of whether the Trump executive will be blocked permanently will be moving on a slow track.
On Tuesday, Judge Orrick laid down a schedule that would mean that an actual trial on that ultimate question of legality would not be held until late in April next year. (Technically, the trial would be on whether a “permanent injunction” would be issued against the Trump order; last week’s ruling involved only a “preliminary injunction.” Even so, if the preliminary order is not stayed, or not overturned on appeal, it will remain in effect, nationwide, until the trial decides the final question. Injunctions that are preliminary in nature are, despite that limited formc, are subject to appeal before the underlying case moves to a conclusion.)