Sanctuary Cities

A Supreme Court Decision About Sports Betting May Help Protect Sanctuary Cities from the Feds

A rule covering immigration communications between state and federal officials may be unconstitutional.


Jeff Sessions
Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/Newscom

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been trying to force sanctuary cities to help the feds track down and deport illegal immigrants. Unfortunately for Sessions, the courts are questioning the constitutionality of the law he's invoking.

Chicago is a "sanctuary city"—that is, a place where officials typically do not ask residents' immigration status in many cases do not cooperate with federal officials in detaining illegal immigrants. Sessions has been attempting to force such cities to be more cooperative by threatening their access to federal grant funds. One of his demands is that these cities affirm their compliance with Section 1373 of the United States code.

Section 1373 doesn't actually require that cities or states assist the federal government in catching or booting out illegal immigrants. But it prohibits states and cities from doing anything (including passing laws or ordinances) that would stop any local government officials from communicating with federal immigration officials about an individual's residency or immigration status. Sounds like a pretty powerful tool for Sessions—except that judges are now declaring Section 1373 an unconstitutional imposition on states' autonomy.

Today the U.S. District Court for the Northeastern District of Illinois Eastern Division ruled that Sessions cannot use Section 1373 to push sanctuary cities into compliace. "In the end," the court ruled, "Section 1373 requires local policymakers to stand aside and allow the federal government to conscript the time and cooperation of local employees. This robs the local executive of its autonomy and ties the hands of the local legislature. Such affronts to State sovereignty are not countenanced by the anticommandeering principle of the Constitution. Section 1373 is unconstitutional and cannot stand."

This is not the first federal judge to rule that Section 1373 is unconstitutional. Another one made a similar ruling on behalf of Philadelphia in June. Ilya Somin analyzed that ruling over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

In both cases, a new legal development is contributing to these rulings. Remember back in May, when the Supreme Court decided that the feds don't have the authority to stop states from legalizing sports gambling? The court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 overreached and violated the lawmaking powers of the states under the 10th Amendment.

That ruling, Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, is now being used as a precedent to declare Section 1373 unconstitutional for the exact same reasons. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber pulled extensively from Murphy ruling in deciding against Sessions.

This is hardly the last word. The judge's ruling today came in response to a motion from Sessions to dismiss the case (the judge declined) and a request from the City of Chicago for a partial summary judgment that the Justice Department overstepped its authorities by attempting to tie grant funding to immigration cooperation (the judge granted). The injunction is limited only to Chicago, though the full appeals court will consider a possible nationwide injunction. The case is scheduled to be argued in September.

Read the ruling for yourself here.