Thursday, January 26, 2017

Is the Grifter-in-Chief's Sanctuary City order constitutional? Our surprise guest columnist says: "Whoa Dude!"

Editors Note: When we heard today that the Grifter-in-Chief had signed a cocktail napkin [Surely, executive order? – Copy Ed.] purporting to punish states and cities who don't participate in his immigrant rodeo by taking away federal funds for unrelated law enforcement purposes, we had two questions: first, what was Susan Sarandon thinking? and second, how could this possibly be constitutional under Our Federalism?  We're still looking for an expert to help us with the first question, but as to the second, our old classmate John Roberts couldn't wait to weigh in.  Boy did he ever.  We had to edit his submission a tad and take out the footnotes, but otherwise we kept his brilliant legal reasoning intact.  Just as we could always rely on the Bongman for the mellowest weed south of Mt. Auburn St., we can rely on him today for his powerfully reasoned analysis concluding that once again the Grifter-in-Chief has crossed a clear constitutional line.  Thanks, John!  PS We're down to sticks and seeds again!

By John “Bongman” Roberts '76
Guest Columnist

The States contend that the Executive Order denying funding to “Sanctuary Cities”  exceeds Congress’s authority under the Spending Clause. They claim that Congress is coercing the States to adopt the changes it wants by threatening to withhold all of a State’s law enforcement or even highway construction grants, unless the State complies with the conditions on helping the U.S. Government apprehend, incarcerate, and deport undocumented aliens.  This, they argue, violates the basic principle that the “Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.” New York, 505 U. S., at 188. There is no doubt that the Act dramatically increases state obligations under immigration law.

The Spending Clause grants Congress the power “to pay the Debts and provide for the . . . general Welfare of the United States.” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 1. We have long recognized that Congress may use this power to grant federal funds to the States, and may condition such a grant upon the States’ “taking certain actions that Congress could not require them to take.” College Savings Bank, 527 U. S., at 686. Such measures “encourage a State to regulate in a particular way, [and] influenc[e] a State’s policy choices.” New York, supra, at 166. The conditions imposed by Congress ensure that the funds are used by the States to “provide for the . . . general Welfare” in the manner Congress intended.

At the same time, our cases have recognized limits on Congress’s power under the Spending Clause to secure state compliance with federal objectives. “We have repeatedly characterized . . . Spending Clause legislation as ‘much in the nature of a contract.’ ” Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U. S. 181, 186 (2002) (quoting Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U. S. 1,17(1981) ). The legitimacy of Congress’s exercise of the spending power “thus rests on whether the State voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of the ‘contract.’ ” Pennhurst, supra,at 17. Respecting this limitation is critical to ensuring that Spending Clause legislation does not undermine the status of the States as independent sovereigns in our federal system. That system “rests on what might at first seem a counterintuitive insight, that ‘freedom is enhanced by the creation of two governments, not one.’ ” . . . For this reason, “the Constitution has never been understood to confer upon Congress the ability to require the States to govern according to Congress’ instructions.” New York, supra, at 162. Otherwise the two-government system established by the Framers would give way to a system that vests power in one central government, and individual liberty would suffer.

Our guest columnist shown during his undergraduate days now
dispenses justice the way he once dispensed . . . what were we saying?
That insight has led this Court to strike down federal legislation that commandeers a State’s legislative or administrative apparatus for federal purposes. See, e.g., Printz, 521 U. S., at 933 (striking down federal legislation compelling state law enforcement officers to perform federally mandated background checks on handgun purchasers); New York, supra, at 174–175 (invalidating provisions of an Act that would compel a State to either take title to nuclear waste or enact particular state waste regulations). It has also led us to scrutinize Spending Clause legislation to ensure that Congress is not using financial inducements to exert a “power akin to undue influence.” Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U. S. 548, 590 (1937) . Congress may use its spending power to create incentives for States to act in accordance with federal policies. But when “pressure turns into compulsion,” ibid., the legislation runs contrary to our system of federalism. “[T]he Constitution simply does not give Congress the authority to require the States to regulate.” New York, 505 U. S., at 178. That is true whether Congress directly commands a State to regulate or indirectly coerces a State to adopt a federal regulatory system as its own.

Permitting the Federal Government to force the States to implement a federal program would threaten the political accountability key to our federal system. “[W]here the Federal Government directs the States to regulate, it may be state officials who will bear the brunt of public disapproval, while the federal officials who devised the regulatory program may remain insulated from the electoral ramifications of their decision.” Id., at 169. Spending Clause programs do not pose this danger when a State has a legitimate choice whether to accept the federal conditions in exchange for federal funds. In such a situation, state officials can fairly be held politically accountable for choosing to accept or refuse the federal offer. But when the State has no choice, the Federal Government can achieve its objectives without accountability, just as in New York and Printz. Indeed, this danger is heightened when Congress acts under the Spending Clause, because Congress can use that power to implement federal policy it could not impose directly under its enumerated powers.

As our decision in Steward Machine confirms, Congress may attach appropriate conditions to federal taxing and spending programs to preserve its control over the use of federal funds. In the typical case we look to the States to defend their prerogatives by adopting “the simple expedient of not yielding” to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace the federal policies as their own. Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447, 482 (1923) . The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.

. . . . We have upheld Congress’s authority to condition the receipt of funds on the States’ complying with restrictions on the use of those funds, because that is the means by which Congress ensures that the funds are spent according to its view of the “general Welfare.” Conditions that do not here govern the use of the funds, however, cannot be justified on that basis. When, for example, such conditions take the form of threats to terminate other significant independent grants, the conditions are properly viewed as a means of pressuring the States to accept policy changes. . . .

In this case, the financial “inducement” Congress has chosen is much more than “relatively mild encouragement”—it is a gun to the head. . . . 

As we have explained, “[t]hough Congress’ power to legislate under the spending power is broad, it does not include surprising participating States with postacceptance or ‘retroactive’ conditions.” Pennhurst, supra, at 25. A State could hardly anticipate that Congress’s reservation of the right to “alter” or “amend” law enforcement assistance programs included the power to transform it so dramatically.

The Court in Steward Machine did not attempt to “fix the outermost line” where persuasion gives way to coercion. 301 U. S., at 591. The Court found it “[e]nough for present purposes that wherever the line may be, this statute is within it.” Ibid. We have no need to fix a line either. It is enough for today that wherever that line may be, this statute is surely beyond it. Congress may not simply “conscript state [agencies] into the national bureaucratic army. ”

[OK, John, we get the drift.  Time to get mellow – Ed.]

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