SFALP students were instrumental in filing the first lawsuit in the nation challenging Executive Order 13768: “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” Signed by President Trump on January 25, 2017, the order sought to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary jurisdictions” that do not affirmatively help enforce federal immigration law. In San Francisco v. Trump, the City asserted that the executive order caused significant constitutional, budgetary, and community harms. On November 20, 2017, federal judge William H. Orrick issued a nationwide permanent injunction against the Executive Order, blocking the Trump administration from stripping sanctuary cities of billions of dollars in federal funds. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the merits of Judge Orrick’s ruling on August 1, 2018, upholding the injunction with respect to San Francisco and remanding the nationwide injunction to the district court for further factual consideration.
San Francisco filed a second lawsuit in August 2017 in response to another federal attack on sanctuary cities. In San Francisco v. Sessions I, San Francisco challenged as unconstitutional new conditions that the U.S. Department of Justice imposed on 2017 federal law enforcement grants to state and local governments. The City argued that the conditions represented a clear attempt to use federal funding to coerce localities to abandon their sanctuary policies. On October 5, 2018, Judge Orrick agreed, holding the conditions’ content and imposition unconstitutional and affirming that San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinances comply with federal law.
The Trump administration has continued to try to weaponize federal funds to push cities to give up their sanctuary status, imposing a modified set of conditions on 2018 federal law enforcement grants to state and local governments. Accordingly, San Francisco filed San Francisco v. Sessions III in August 2018 to challenge the altered conditions. The litigation remains ongoing.
In "the trial of the century," San Francisco was the only party allowed to intervene in the famous Marriage Equality case, ultimately called Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652 (2014). Private lawyers filed a challenge against California's initiative-imposed ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, but the San Francisco City Attorney's Office successfully argued that it would face unique injuries as a city due to the ban. The City took a strong stand on behalf of equality and against the discriminatory ban, asserting that "relegating gay couples to a lesser status simply to brand them as different and less worthy than opposite-sex couples is not a legitimate purpose'—language that would be echoed in the Supreme Court's ultimate finding that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to license marriages between two individuals of the same sex.
SFALP students contributed extensively to the case at every stage, from predecessor cases in state courts through the Ninth Circuit and up to the Supreme Court. Nearly every student in the clinic contributed to the case over the course of litigation.
In December 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded 25 civil rights guidance documents that protected the poor, youth, immigrants, people of color, and people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies use this type of guidance to communicate agency interpretations of governing law or regulations. To explain the repeal, Sessions announced that the documents were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”
On April 5, 2018, San Francisco filed suit on the basis that six of these documents were withdrawn without meaningful explanation, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. These six documents instructed state and local governments on how to comply with federal civil rights laws concerning unlawful fines and fees against juvenile offenders and low-income individuals, discrimination protections for disabled individuals, and anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The complaint asks the court to void the DOJ's rescission and reinstate the guidance documents.