There is a conflict brewing as Democrat cities try to hold out against Republican states and the Republican-dominated federal government.
Democrat cities like Chicago have been in the news lately for refusing to follow immigration law.
This is a sign of a growing conflict as Democrat cities seek to go their own way against larger jurisdictions where Republicans have won elections. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently published an analysis of what is going on.
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With the federal government and most states controlled by conservative Republicans this year, Democrats are looking to Democratic cities and counties to stand up for progressive policy.
But they may want to temper their expectations. State lawmakers have blocked city action on a range of economic, environmental and human rights issues, including liberal priorities such as minimum wage increases, in recent years. And the stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year.
Already, state lawmakers in Texas and Arkansas are weighing bills that would ban cities from declaring themselves “sanctuaries” and withholding cooperation with federal immigration officials.
Lawmakers in Kentucky, Virginia and six other states are considering preventing localities from allowing transgender people to use some restrooms that match their gender identity. In Montana, one lawmaker wants to prevent local governments from banning texting while driving.
While legislators say they’re trying to ensure consistency in state policy, so-called state preemption laws often expose political differences between state leaders — many of whom hail from rural districts — and city leaders.
If you ask me as an abstract question whether I prefer local autonomy or centralized authority, I would say local autonomy. But it these cities get to be the centers of population growth in part by refusing to enforce laws regarding immigration, and thereby acquire influence in national elections, that makes me have second thoughts. Also, a society that expects the larger government to provide revenue to local governments is not in a position to insist on independence. Independence was abandoned when the feds were expected to hand out taxpayer goodies to Democrat cities.
It’s hard to tell who will win these battles. In the case of Donald Trump and sanctuary cities, the courts are still occupied by many Democrats. According to the Wall Street Journal,
Legal experts said the Supreme Court has given them [sanctuary cities] many tools for resistance.
The court has ruled that the U.S. Constitution bars the federal government from commandeering state officials or using federal funds to “coerce” states into doing the bidding of Washington.
As recently as 2012, the court held that the federal government couldn’t expel states from Medicaid if they refused to expand eligibility for the federal-state health program, curtailing a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
“If the denial of Medicaid funding alone was coercive, the denial of all federal funding of any kind for refusing to cooperate in enforcement of immigration law must be coercive,” said Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University.
The federal government can withhold a grant from a city or state, but it must do so for reasons related to that grant’s purpose, legal experts said. For example, the Trump administration likely couldn’t deny grants for highways to a city for defying Mr. Trump’s executive order on immigration, because the two are unconnected, said Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals judge who now teaches at Stanford Law School.
The rules have some flexibility, legal experts said. The U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1987 case that the federal government could withhold highway funding from states that refused to raise their minimum drinking age to 21 years, reasoning that the funding and the condition both promoted highway safety.
One silver lining is that, if Democrat cities win some battles, maybe the country will move in a decentralist direction. And once Republicans find that these Federal subsidies aid Democrat cities, maybe they’ll take steps to end them for everyone. Then there will be a competition among cities to grow by making sound economic decisions.