SFALP Scores Another Victory In Sanctuary City Case


In early October, 2018, a federal judge handed Yale Law clinic students and the San Francisco City Attorney (SFALP) the latest victory in their efforts to prevent the Trump administration from unlawfully defunding sanctuary cities.

Northern California District Court Judge William H. Orrick III ruled that Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated the Constitution by adding conditions to federal grants designed to coerce cities into abandoning their sanctuary status. Judge Orrick also declared that San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinances comply with federal law and entered a nationwide injunction barring the conditions’ enforcement, staying the injunction outside of California pending review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

SFALP students helped file the case in August 2017. The litigation arose after the U.S. Department of Justice attached a series of conditions to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, or “Byrne JAG,” program. Byrne JAG is “the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.” In recent years, it has provided San Francisco with millions of dollars to support initiatives whose goals range from reducing recidivism to enabling drug treatment for underserved populations.  

The new conditions sought to compel localities to (1) provide federal immigration authorities with access to their jails, (2) give the federal government notice of detainees’ release dates, and (3) certify compliance with 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a federal statute which prohibits state and local governments from restricting their agencies from sharing certain information with the Department of Homeland Security.

In an emphatic opinion, Judge Orrick agreed with SFALP and City Attorney Dennis Herrera on all counts. He found that “the challenged conditions violate the separation of powers; Section 1373 is unconstitutional; the Attorney General exceed[ed] the Spending Power in violation of the United States Constitution by imposing the challenged conditions; the challenged conditions are arbitrary and capricious; . . . [and] San Francisco’s laws comply with Section 1373 . . . .”

“Judge Orrick’s order is a tremendous victory for San Francisco,” said Shannon Manley ’20. “It reaffirms what every court that has looked at this issue has found: that the grant conditions violate the Constitution, and that even if Section 1373 weren’t unconstitutional, it applies much more narrowly than the Department of Justice construes it.”

“Judge Orrick’s order vindicates the idea that the federal government cannot coerce localities into turning their backs on the most marginalized among us, including undocumented immigrants,” said Jorge Bonilla Lopez ’19. “It recognizes the fundamental notion that the safety of our communities is best served by local policies that encourage immigrants to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement without fear of adverse consequences like deportation.”

SFALP partners students with lawyers in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office to bring innovative public interest litigation. The clinic has produced successful results for more than a decade.

SFALP students have played an invaluable role in advancing all three of San Francisco’s sanctuary city cases, researching legal theories, developing facts, drafting briefs, and participating in strategic decisions alongside the team at the City Attorney’s Office.

“Our supervising attorneys are extraordinary lawyers and teachers. I’ve learned a lot through this clinic, and especially though this case,” said Todd Venook ’19.

“I feel honored to play a role in lawsuits that push back against the Trump administration’s unlawful actions and protect immigrants from unconstitutional federal overreach,” added Manley ’20.

“Our students engage with the most challenging issues of the day and serve those in need,” said Professor Heather Gerken, the Dean of Yale Law School and director of the SFALP clinic. “What could be more satisfying as a lawyer?”