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‘An Oxymoronic Designation without Precedent’: Cities Labeled ‘Anarchist Jurisdictions’ Sue Trump Administration


New York City, Portland, and Seattle on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the federal government’s controversial decision to designate each of the Democratic-led cities as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The sharply-worded complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle claimed that the designation, which would allow the federal government to withhold certain federal funds from the cities, contravenes both the law and common sense.

“In an act offensive to both the Constitution and common sense, President [Donald] Trump has called on the Attorney General to formally identify certain American cities as ‘anarchist jurisdictions’—an oxymoronic designation without precedent in American jurisprudence—and has activated the entire federal bureaucracy to preclude such jurisdictions from receiving federal funds,” the lawsuit stated in its opening line.

President Trump was widely criticized in early September for signing the five-page Presidential Memorandum authorizing Attorney General Bill Barr to label cities as “anarchist jurisdictions” without providing any framework for such an evaluation or citing to any legal authority as a basis for such a drastic measure. Trump often refers to these places as “Democrat-run.”

The plaintiff states highlighted these shortcomings in the complaint, alleging that Barr’s decisions to label certain cities as “anarchist” was arbitrary and capricious.

“The Anarchist Memo directed U.S. Attorney General William Barr to formally identify such jurisdictions based on an arbitrary and vague set of factors related to local policing, and further commanded the director of the United States Office of Management and Budget to instruct federal agencies to restrict federal grants to “anarchist jurisdictions” to the maximum extent permitted by law,” the complaint stated. “The Memo does not contain a single legal citation. There is no reference to any constitutional or statutory basis authority for the President to strip federal funding from the Cities when he disagrees with their on-the-ground policing decisions or deems their budgeting choices unwise.”

The plaintiffs also argued that the federal government’s attempt to impose new conditions and restrictions on congressionally-approved federal funds constituted a “blatant violation of the separation of powers.”

“The Power of the Purse belongs to Congress, not the Executive Branch,” the states argued. “Executive agencies may only act within the scope of authority granted them by Congress and must engage in reasoned decision-making when they do act; yet they have not done this. No act of Congress gives the Attorney General the authority to designate cities as ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ from which federal funding may be withheld.”

The cities also took aim at Barr, who announced the “anarchist” designation of the cities via press release Sept. 21, saying the attorney general provided only misleading statistics to support his decision.

“And in addition to failing to anchor his decision in any provision of federal law, the Attorney General based his decision, made via a press release, on an arbitrary and capricious list of misleading and cherry-picked bullet-points about each City that in no way supports the assertion that the Cities have chosen to abandon their jurisdictions to lawlessness and violence,” the complaint stated.

The lawsuit asked the court to declare Trump’s memorandum and Barr’s designations as unconstitutional and unlawful. It also sought an order halting the administration from taking any action in furtherance of the directives.

Read the full lawsuit below:

Anarchist Jurisdictions Lawsuit by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.