UPDATED: Feb. 25, 2021: President Biden on Wednesday revoked the designation of Seattle, New York City and Portland, OR as “anarchist jurisdictions,” reversing former President Trump’s executive action last October.
In a statement, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said he was “glad to have this nonsense cleared from the decks.”
- The Cities of New York, Seattle and Portland, OR announced Thursday they would sue the Trump administration over their designations as "anarchist jurisdictions," set last month by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
- New York City's Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson said in a media briefing that the lawsuit argues the legality of the DOJ’s designation, seeing as Congress, not the exective branch, controls appropriations. The suit also argues the designation is arbitrary and capricious, and violates federalism. The complaint called the designation "offensive to both the Constitution and common sense" and "an oxymoronic designation without precedent in American jurisprudence."
- The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court in Seattle, comes as the federal government takes steps to prevent the cities from accessing federal grant dollars. Johnson said the designation could cost New York City alone as much as $12 billion.
The police killing of George Floyd in May sparked a national outrage that put some major metropolitan cities on lockdown in a bid to keep rioters off the streets. New York, Seattle and Portland saw particularly high numbers of protesters condemning police brutality for a series of weeks, but some of those events were marred with violent behavior and destruction of property. Portland in particular has seen protests occur regularly since May, leading to a number of arrests and injuries.
The designation of these cities as "anarchist jurisdictions" came just weeks after a presidential memorandum called for a review of jurisdictions that are "Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities." At the time, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said he hoped cities would "reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens."
Once issued in late September, the designation brought strong pushback from a variety of sources.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he initially dismissed the designation as an election-year stunt, but it has shown real effects in recent weeks as the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) warned it could cut federal grants for services like HIV treatment, newborn screenings and relief from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) then excluded the three cities from receiving research grants to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on public transit, a move that brought a stinging rebuke from transportation advocates. In a statement, American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Paul Skoutelas called it "inappropriate and unjustified," while a separate joint statement from a number of transportation associations said the FTA was "playing politics with safety."
"The Trump administration’s attempt to condition FTA grants on political criteria unrelated to need or merit sets a disturbing precedent," the joint statement reads. "If applied to other forms of federal funding, this 'guidance' has the potential to thwart cities' long-term economic recovery efforts."
Johnson said those moves convinced city leaders that the time is right to act against the "anarchist jurisdiction" tag, especially as more restrictions could follow. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said she was also readying legal action against the Trump administration.
"We’re bringing this action because they have taken concrete steps," Johnson said. "They have actually taken this anarchist designation and started to include it in applications for federal grants. We’re not going to wait for them to include it in more. We’re moving now."
A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.