SFALP Case on Sanctuary Cities Wins Major Victory in Court


A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the Trump administration from denying funding to sanctuary cities on April 25, 2017, a victory for Yale Law clinic students who aided the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office in filing the case.

The lawsuit was filed in January 2017 with assistance from the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project at Yale Law School. It was the first case in the country to challenge the federal executive order on “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The filing argued that the Trump administration’s order directing enforcement action against sanctuary cities and threatening to withhold funding from these cities is unconstitutional and exceeds the President’s power.

In his ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the administration. The order means the administration cannot cut off aid to sanctuary jurisdictions. The injunction could last until Judge Orrick makes a final ruling on the merits of the case unless the administration appeals this decision at the Ninth Circuit.

The order is a major victory because it prevents the administration from unconstitutionally stripping sanctuary cities of billions of dollars in federal funds, the clinic said.

Max Nardini ’16, Clinical Fellow for SFALP, said the decision ultimately portends a favorable outcome in the district court as in order to issue the preliminary injunction, Judge Orrick had to determine that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of the case. 

"It has been utterly inspiring to work on this case, and the progress so far has been tremendous,” said Nardini. “In a single semester, we have gone from drafting and filing a complaint to receiving a nationwide injunction. There is still a lot more work to be done, but this is a very encouraging outcome."

Professor Heather Gerken, the incoming Dean for Yale Law School who leads the SFALP clinic, said it was amazing that students had the opportunity to work on the “case of a lifetime” at the beginning of their legal careers.

“Our students worked around the clock. The entire clinic took part at some point during the litigation,” said Gerken. “We are so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Students who worked on the case said it was a chance to delve into new, challenging areas of the law and respond quickly to a continually evolving set of facts.

“The San Francisco City Attorney's Office is an unparalleled leader in vindicating the public interest,” said Christine Kwon ’17. “It has been an incredible privilege to participate directly in such cutting-edge litigation.”

Kwon said she was grateful for the leadership of the supervising deputy city attorneys and the tireless work of fellow SFALP teammates, which included Marissa Roy '17, Emma Sokoloff-Rubin '18, Nardini '16, and the many other SFALP students who joined the effort.

SFALP partners with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office to bring civil rights and consumer protection litigation.

Over the course of several weeks in January, students researched legal theories, developed facts, and participated in strategic decisions alongside the team from the City Attorney’s Office. Students were actively involved at every stage of the process and helped finalize the complaint in the hours leading up to the filing.

President Trump issued an executive order on January 25, 2017, announcing that it would seek to deprive “sanctuary jurisdictions” of federal grants. San Francisco receives more than $1.2 billion a year in federal funding, most of which goes to health care, nutrition, and other safety net programs. This lawsuit is the first in the nation to challenge this specific executive order.