New York City, Portland, and Seattle have sued the Trump administration over threatening to pull federal funding after the Department of Justice (DOJ) designated the cities as “anarchist jurisdictions”.
New York City Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson announced during a press conference on Thursday that the city was taking legal action now because the Trump administration was making “concrete steps” to withhold federal funding from any area with an “anarchist” label.
"There is no basis in law, there is no basis in fact, for this anarchist determination, and yet they are going to use it to determine who does and who does not get federal funding," he said.
The lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenged the memorandum President Donald Trump issued last month that aimed to identify places that allow “anarchy, violence and destruction in American cities”. This memorandum heightened the president’s “law and order” messaging about the riots that took place during anti-racism protests.
"My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses. We’re putting them on notice today," the president previously tweeted.
The Democratic-led cities of New York City, Portland, and Seattle were identified last month by the DOJ as “anarchist jurisdictions”, and they could face a slash in federal funding, including money towards transportation.
Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration announced it would consider Covid-19-designated relief funding to cities based on the DOJ’s “anarchist” designation.
“The Trump administration’s political threats against Seattle and other Democratic cities are unlawful and an abuse of federal power," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a news release.
"It’s immoral, unconstitutional, and shameful that we are forced to expend any resources on this political theater.”
The cities argue that the Trump administration has no grounds to impose conditions on congressional funding without the approval of Congress. It was also argued in the lawsuit that the “anarchist” designation was only based on vague characteristics determined by Attorney General Bill Barr.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Mr Trump’s threat against his city was a “totally political action” that could harm New Yorkers.
"It's morally wrong, it's legally unacceptable, it's unconstitutional, and we're going to fight it," the Democratic mayor said, adding later that he was "confident of victory in this case".
If the Trump administration were allowed to cut funding from these cities, it could impact health programs that serve low-income households, the elderly, and others, according to documents obtained by Politico. An estimated 200 health programs could face funding cuts.
In New York City, as much as $12bn in funding towards health, transportation, and law enforcement programs could be at risk, Mr Johnson said.
"The cities rely on billions of dollars in federal funding to provide a range of vital services, including housing, public transportation, and emergency relief," the lawsuit read. "The funding threat could not come at a worse time, as the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged municipal finances, draining reserves and forcing painful budget cuts."