Judge finds for Philadelphia in sanctuary city case

He deemed the Justice Department's actions 'arbitrary and capricious.'

Pat Loeb
June 06, 2018 - 12:23 pm
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Calvin Mattheis-USA TODAY Sports

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In a strongly worded opinion, a federal judge has ruled in favor of Philadelphia in its lawsuit against the Trump administration over immigration policy. 

Judge Michael Baylson handed Philadelphia an unequivocal victory, finding the city's policies are "reasonable, rational and an appropriate excercise of municipal authority," while finding the strings the Justice Department tied to a federal grant "arbitrary and capricious," unconstitutional, and in violation of several federal laws.

Philadelphia has said, as a "sanctuary city," it will only turn over immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they have a warrant signed by a judge. The city sued after the Justice Department withheld $1.6 million on the grounds that the city's policy violated the terms of the grant. 

The 89-page decision strikes a poetic chord, preceeded by quotes from Shakespeare and beginning with a metaphor from Homer's "Odyssey" comparing Justice Department demands with sea monsters. Baylson said that, even if the Justice Department's claims were valid, the city has been in substantial compliance with their policies.

He noted the grant would be used for such lifesaving efforts as providing the overdose drug Narcan and ruled the city would be irreparably harmed if the grant money is not released. 

The judge had indicated the city was likely to prevail when he granted its injunction request, but as the trial closed last month, he suggested the two sides try to find a compromise. Neither side was willing. In his order, the judge asked the two sides to agree on the language for a decree that will fulfill his ruling — or even propose a joint decree.

A federal appeals court in April sided with Chicago in a similar dispute.

City Solicitor Marcel Pratt said he's grateful.

"This decision is simply highly encouraging because it reassures us that no one, not even highly ranking public officials, are above the Constitution," he said. "The public statements of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserting that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born citizens are inaccurate."

Pratt he believes the ruling will be persuasive in other cases.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.