Steptoe & Johnson LLP
On March 6 and 7, PORAC President Brian Marvel and Vice President Brent Meyer met with key federal officials in Washington, D.C., to advocate for the preservation and expansion of law enforcement funding initiatives. They emphasized the critical role played by Department of Justice (DOJ) grant programs and other federal assistance in ensuring state and local law enforcement agencies in California and across the nation have the resources needed to protect their communities.
Over the course of two days, President Marvel and Vice President Meyer met with key members of the California delegation, including Representatives Lou Correa (D-46th), Steve Knight (R-25th), Zoe Lofgren (D-19th), David Valadao (R-21st), Juan Vargas (D-51st), Eric Swalwell (D-15th), Jimmy Panetta (D-20th) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D). PORAC also met with staff from the offices of Representative Pete Aguilar (D-31st) and Senator Kamala Harris (D) as well as with top officials in the White House, the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the D.C. office of Governor Jerry Brown.
The fly-in was well timed, as Congress spent much of March engaged in contentious debates over appropriations legislation to fund federal government programs — including DOJ grant programs — for the remainder of the fiscal year before the stopgap funding bill deadline on March 23.
At press time, congressional leadership felt confident the funding bill would be passed before the March 23 deadline and expected that certain riders would be added. Possibilities include provisions to stabilize the individual health insurance market, technical corrections to the tax reform bill and additional disaster assistance to impacted states.
In the wake of the February school shooting in Broward County, Florida, President Trump and Congress turned their attention to issues such as Second Amendment rights, due process for gun owners, the mental health-care system and school safety. A Trump administration-backed bill to enhance enforcement of the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has attracted over 60 Senate cosponsors, suggesting it has enough support to overcome a filibuster and pass the Senate. At the time of this writing, however, the bill — titled the Fix NICS Act of 2017 (S. 2135) — had not yet been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.
Trump Administration Releases Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for Department of Justice Programs
In mid-February, the Trump administration released its fiscal year 2019 congressional budget request for the DOJ. The document outlines proposed funding levels for DOJ divisions including the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administer federal grants to state and local law enforcement agencies and other law enforcement assistance programs.
Citing a need to intensify the Department’s focus on violent crime reduction, immigration enforcement and the opioid crisis, the president’s budget request proposes a number of significant funding shifts, including:
- A 49% cut in funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring program.
- Elimination of the $210 million State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) program, which reimburses state and local governments for expenses incurred while detaining illegal immigrants charged with crimes.
- Sustained or increased funding levels for DOJ programs focused on immigration enforcement and combating the opioid crisis. For example, the request calls for a $41 million increase in Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) funding specifically for opioid-related initiatives (from $25 million enacted in fiscal year 2017 to $66 million in fiscal year 2019).
- Sustained funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program at $403 million, but taking from the total amount of grants available, funding for certain programs previously funded separately, including $22.5 million for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, $22.5 million to support state and local law enforcement agency acquisition of body-worn cameras, and $15 million for the Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability (VALOR) initiative.
It is important to keep in mind that the president’s budget is fundamentally only an advocacy document setting forth the administration’s proposed policies. Congress will establish the funding levels for each agency through the budget resolution and then determine how much money is to be spent on specific programs — including DOJ grant programs — through the appropriations process. In past fiscal years, the amounts eventually allocated to DOJ programs by Congress have generally exceeded the amounts proposed in administration budget requests. Accordingly, PORAC has advocated robust federal grant programs for state and local law enforcement.
House Passes Anti-Online Sex Trafficking Legislation
On February 27, the House of Representatives passed, in a 388 to 25 vote, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) of 2017 (H.R. 1865), a bill sponsored by Representative Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) to create new legal avenues for online sex trafficking victims and prosecutors to hold accountable websites that knowingly aid sex trafficking. PORAC actively supported the legislation.
FOSTA would subject online platforms such as Backpage.com to harsher state and federal penalties when they enable or encourage sex trafficking and prostitution. It would make online classified ad sites more vulnerable to criminal charges and civil suits by creating a new federal crime carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and by lowering current legal barriers protecting sites from liability for content posted by third-party users.
Included in FOSTA is an amendment offered by Representative Mimi Walters (R-45th), to make it easier for sex trafficking victims to sue the websites that aided in their trafficking, to allow state attorneys general to bring civil suits against online sex trafficking platforms on behalf of trafficking victims and to facilitate federal prosecution of sex trafficking platforms.
Federal Government Sues California Over “Sanctuary” Policies
On March 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ has filed a lawsuit against the State of California challenging certain so-called “sanctuary” laws that restrict the extent to which state and local officials in California assist federal immigration enforcement efforts. The DOJ suit seeks to enjoin and invalidate three 2017 California laws, arguing that they obstruct the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration laws and therefore violate the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause (which establishes that federal laws generally override conflicting state laws).
The lawsuit specifically targets the following:
- The California Values Act (SB 54), which limits state and local law enforcement officials’ interactions with federal immigration officials.
- The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450), which restricts employers in the state from sharing certain confidential information about immigrant workers with federal authorities without a subpoena and requires federal officials to obtain a warrant to access non-public work areas.
- A provision enacted in 2017 as part of a public safety omnibus spending bill (AB 103) that empowers the California attorney general to conduct broad inspections of federal immigration detention facilities located in the state.
The role of state and local officials in federal immigration enforcement is an unsettled legal question. The federal government’s argument cites Arizona v. United States, a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Arizona statutes granting state officials power to enforce federal immigration law. One Arizona law, for example, empowered state and local law enforcement to make warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants. The Court concluded that by creating and seeking to enforce its own more stringent immigration laws, Arizona had intruded on an area of lawmaking reserved to the federal government and therefore violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The federal government’s complaint compares California’s “sanctuary” laws to the Arizona laws struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012.
The California Attorney General’s counterargument cites Printz v. United States, a 1997 Supreme Court decision holding that the federal government may not coerce Arizona and Montana law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on gun purchasers in the state. The Court’s conclusion was based on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects certain state rights — such as a state’s general police power over its residents — from federal intrusion.
The suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The DOJ has requested an initial hearing on April 5, 2018.
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PORAC Advocates for Law Enforcement in D.C.
In late March, more than a dozen PORAC and PORAN members traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers to discuss legislative priorities in the 115th Congress. In total, the group met with more than 30 lawmakers and their staffs, including U.S. Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.), Harris (D-Calif.), Heller (R-Nev.) and Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). PORAC also met with staff from the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students.
PORAC expressed its strong support for the preservation of a number of grant programs administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), including Community Oriented Policing Services grants, Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area grants. PORAC was encouraged by the response from lawmakers, who recognized the value of these programs and expressed commitment to their continued funding. The group also discussed the urgent need for 9-1-1 emergency system reform, explaining how the existing infrastructure has not kept pace with modern technologies and is compromising public safety. Additionally, PORAC outlined its concerns with a House-passed bill that would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and suggested changes that the Senate should incorporate when it considers the issue.
It was clear throughout the two days of meetings that lawmakers have come to value PORAC’s input on policy and are very interested in learning about its position on a range of issues.
Trump Takes Action to Combat Opioid Abuse
On March 29, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The mission of the initiative is to “study the scope and effectiveness of the federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis” and make recommendations for improvement. To lead the commission, President Trump chose New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been working to address the scourge of opioid abuse and heroin use in his state. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will also have a seat on the panel.
The commission is designed to identify and describe existing federal funding used to combat drug addiction and the opioid crisis; assess the availability and accessibility of drug addiction treatment services and overdose reversal throughout the country, and identify underserved areas; report on best practices for addiction prevention, including health-care provider education, evaluation of prescribing practices and effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs; and make recommendations to the president for improving the federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis. After 90 days, the commission must submit to President Trump an interim report with its preliminary findings, and a final report must be submitted by October 1.
The commission will receive administrative support from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which will soon be under new leadership. On April 11, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Representative Tom Marino (R-Penn.) to lead the ONDCP as the next so-called “drug czar.” The third-term congressman is a former federal prosecutor and was one of President Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress during the presidential campaign. Last Congress, Congressman Marino introduced the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act (H.R. 3380) to curb drug trafficking across borders, the Senate version of which (S. 1612, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein) was signed into law. He is also opposed to loosening restrictions on marijuana and has advocated for mandatory inpatient substance abuse programs for nonviolent drug offenders.
AG Sessions Signals Shift in Enforcement Priorities
In public remarks and in departmental memos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that under his leadership the DOJ will prioritize reducing violent crime, with a particular emphasis on dismantling drug cartels and federally prosecuting firearm offenses.
“We’re making sure the federal government focuses our resources and efforts on this surge in violent crime,” Sessions recently told law enforcement personnel in Virginia, highlighting the recent formation of the DOJ Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to evaluate and improve existing federal efforts. Sessions noted that reducing violent crime depends on confronting the heroin and opioid crisis — and that combating the scourge of illicit drug use depends on securing the nation’s borders and enforcing immigration law. “Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction and misery,” Sessions said. “Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product.”
Sessions’ stance on enforcing immigration law is much more stringent than his predecessor’s. This is demonstrated not only by his comments above but also by his announcement in mid-April that sanctuary cities (cities that do not permit municipal funds or resources to be used for, or otherwise prohibit local law enforcement’s participation in, the enforcement of federal immigration law) would be ineligible to receive federal funding from the DOJ if they do not change their policies. “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the street,” Sessions said, adding that “the DOJ will require jurisdictions seeking or applying for DOJ grants to certify compliance with 1373 [laws requiring local agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts] as a condition of receiving those awards.” It is unclear how the DOJ plans to implement this policy and what exactly the impact would be on the affected jurisdictions.
Supreme Court Update
In recent weeks, the Supreme Court rendered decisions in several cases addressing criminal justice issues, two of which are outlined below.
In a 5–3 decision in Moore v. Texas, the Court held that a state court applied the wrong standards to conclude that a Texas death-row inmate was not intellectually disabled and therefore eligible for execution. Specifically, the Court considered whether the use of outdated medical standards to determine if a person is intellectually disabled and ineligible for execution qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In this case, Moore was sentenced to death in 1980, but he argued that he was exempt from execution because he was intellectually disabled. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Moore’s challenge, relying on a set of 1992 standards for evaluating intellectual disability. The Court concluded that the lower court’s reasoning was flawed in many respects, including that it 1) focused too heavily on Moore’s IQ score, 2) did not consider current clinical standards and 3) relied on factors founded in neither medicine nor law. Chief Justice Roberts — along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — dissented.
In a 6–2 decision in Manuel v. City of Joilet, the Court analyzed whether Fourth Amendment protections applied to a post-arrest seven-week detention, which allegedly was imposed without probable cause and based on false evidence. Justice Kagan, writing for five other members of the court, concluded that an unlawful “pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows, the start of legal process in a criminal case.” This conclusion — that the Fourth Amendment governs a claim of unlawful pretrial detention — was the same conclusion reached by 10 other federal appellate courts. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas both agreed with the narrow holding of the case — i.e., that “the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment continues to apply ‘after the start of the legal process.’” They disagreed, however, with the suggestion that “new Fourth Amendment claims continue to accrue as long as pretrial detention lasts.”