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Lawyers: DOJ Threatens to Defund Police by Advancing Trump’s ‘Absurdly Dystopian’ Anarchist Jurisdictions Memo


The U.S. Department of Justice woke up bright and early on Monday and declared Portland, Seattle, and New York City “anarchist jurisdictions” two and a half weeks after President Donald Trump revealed a controversial memo aimed at withholding federal funding from several cities—all of them run by Democrats. The memo was widely criticized for the open-ended way in which Attorney General Bill Barr was permitted to define the term “anarchist jurisdictions”; many of those criticisms were repeated on Monday because the DOJ again said that “any other related factors the Attorney General deems appropriate” was a legitimate criterion for labeling a place an “anarchist jurisdiction.” But, in a twist, other attorneys said that cutting federal funds would mean defunding police.

The DOJ said in a press release that NYC, Portland, and Seattle deserved to be evaluated for possible financial punishment for allowing violence to persist unchecked. Attorney General Barr’s statement appeared to be a final warning.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” he said. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

The DOJ then repeated the several criteria the president’s memo came up with for stripping jurisdictions of federal funding (the effort to defund cities run by Democrats is not new for the Trump administration; the administration has repeatedly attempted to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities, for example).

RELATED: Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch Would Reject Trump’s ‘Lawless’ Threat to Defund ‘Anarchist Jurisdictions’

DOJ said NYC, Portland, and Seattle each rejected federal law enforcement support despite sharp increases in shootings, violence, looting, vandalism and, in some cases, killing. The presidential memo says jurisdictions who “unreasonably” reject the federal law enforcement aid can be targeted. DOJ called out NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, by name.

What’s more, the New York City Council and the Portland City Council moved to cut police funding by $1 billion and $15 million, respectively—satisfying the “Whether a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments” criterion. But the DOJ did not stop there: refusal to prosecute could also lead to the “anarchist jurisdictions” label.

“Meanwhile, the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys have declined to prosecute charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly arising from the protests, and the District Attorneys in Queens and the Bronx have declined to prosecute other protest-related charges,” the press release said.

That line, and others, led to swift criticism of the attorney general.

So much for Barr’s good prosecutors don’t headhunt advice from last week, University of North Carolina law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick remarked.

“Last week: Barr says good prosecutors refuse to bring criminal charges in some cases,” Hessick said. “This week: Barr says NYC should lose federal funding because the city DAs have decided not to pursue various protest-related charges.”

So much for federalism, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said.

According to defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Harry Sandick, withholding federal funds from certain cities means—wait for it—defunding the police.

“Why does Trump want to defund the police?” Sandick asked.

Attorney Luppe B. Luppen agreed. He shared a New York Post story on the DOJ maneuver and came up with a headline of his own: “Bill Barr Defunds the NYPD.”

Recent statistics show that roughly 6-percent of NYPD’s budget is federally funded. That’s $349 million dollars.

Attorney Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at American Immigration Council, said that the DOJ was carrying out the objectives of an “absurdly dystopian” executive order that exists only to punish political opponents.

“This is the result of the absurdly dystopian executive Order demanding that AG Barr identi[f]y ‘anarchist jurisdictions,’ with the unconstitutional goal of punishing those local governments,” he said.

[Image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.