SFALP Sanctuary City Ruling Upheld by Ninth Circuit


In a significant victory for Yale Law clinic students and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling invalidating the Trump administration’s efforts to defund sanctuary cities.

Students in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) at Yale Law School helped file the case just days after the President signed an executive order last year threatening to strip sanctuary jurisdictions of funding. The case was the first in the country to challenge the executive order. In November 2017, District Court Judge William H. Orrick agreed with the City Attorney and SFALP that the executive order was unconstitutional and entered a nationwide permanent injunction halting its enforcement.

Echoing Judge Orrick’s analysis, the Ninth Circuit underscored that “there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority. Absent congressional authorization, the Administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals. Because Congress did not authorize withholding funds, the executive Order violates the constitutional principle of the Separation of Powers.” The Ninth Circuit panel upheld the injunction with respect to San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties, though it remanded the nationwide injunction for further factual consideration by the district court.

SFALP partners students with lawyers in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office to bring civil rights and other public interest litigation. It is a unique and innovative model that has produced incredibly successful results for more than a decade.

In the sanctuary city case, SFALP students researched legal theories, developed facts, and participated in strategic decisions alongside the team from City Attorney’s Office. Students were actively involved at every stage of this process and helped finalize the complaint in the hours before the filing.

“This is an important victory for the rule of law in an era when the Constitution is under constant assault,” said Emma Sokoloff-Rubin ’18. “The Ninth Circuit emphatically agreed with us that the executive order violates Separation of Powers principles and emphasized, as we did, the federal government’s disingenuous attempt to salvage the order by denying its plain meaning and purpose.”

SFALP student Bonnie Robinson ’18 added that “it has been immensely gratifying to use the diversity of subjects we study somewhat abstractly in the classroom in service of a case like this. As I’m commencing my legal career, the lawyers in the City Attorney’s Office have offered me an inspiring model.”  

“Our students worked incredibly hard on this case,” said Professor Heather Gerken, Dean of Yale Law School who also leads the SFALP clinic. “It’s been amazing to watch them work through these cutting-edge constitutional questions in real time.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera stressed the ruling’s importance for our nation’s constitutional system.

“This is why we have courts,” Herrera said. “When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab. The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”