NEW YORK — New York and its fellow cities branded anarchist jurisdictions by the Trump administration filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a move to pull their federal funds.
The Justice Department last month slapped the label on New York, Seattle, and Portland, saying they could lose federal funding because the administration believes they have failed to rein in “violence and destruction of property” on their streets. The “anarchist jurisdiction” designation came after President Donald Trump ordered the DOJ to identify cities that, in his view, were not responding aggressively enough to protests and crime — amid a larger rhetorical attack on blue states the president has deemed politically unsupportive.
The three cities filed a joint complaint Thursday in federal district court in Seattle seeking to block the move.
“In an act offensive to both the Constitution and common sense, President Trump has called on the Attorney General to formally identify certain American cities as ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ — an oxymoronic designation without precedent in American jurisprudence,” the three cities said in court papers filed in federal district court in Seattle. “The Defendants’ actions violate bedrock principles of American democracy: separation of powers, federalism, and due process.”
The cities argue that their finances are already strained by the Covid-19 pandemic — in New York’s case, with $9 billion in lost revenue — and losing their federal aid would be “devastating.”
New York City stands to lose as much as $12 billion if the threat were fully implemented.
“It’s morally wrong. It’s legally unacceptable. It’s unconstitutional, and we’re going to fight it,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press briefing.
De Blasio at first dismissed the move as an election-year ploy. But officials said they’re taking it seriously after the Federal Transit Administration issued a notice of opportunity for cities to apply for a grant this month — and specified that “anarchist” cities could not participate.
The lawsuit will charge that the Trump administration is illegally infringing on Congress’s power to dictate how federal funds are spent. It will also claim that the designation is arbitrary, and is a violation of cities’ rights to decide how to police their streets and spend their own funds.
In subjecting New York to the label, DOJ cites a recent rise in shootings in the city as well as a purported $1 billion cut to the NYPD, and the decision by some district attorneys not to prosecute protesters arrested for minor offenses.
“It is made up out of whole cloth,” Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson said of the “anarchist jurisdiction” label. “There’s no statutory basis for it. There’s clearly no constitutional basis for it, and a court will see that it should make really short work of this and reject the characterization.”
De Blasio scoffed at the idea that anarchy had taken over city streets.
“This is a figment of Donald Trump’s troubled imagination," he said.