The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction that blocks the Justice Department from using “the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement.”
Trump’s latest courtroom defeat offers yet another civics lesson about checks and balances for the first president in American history who lacks any prior governing or military experience. Unlike congressional Republicans who have by and large kowtowed and capitulated to Trumpism, despite private uneasiness and grumbling in many cases, Republican-appointed judges are free not to care about the wrath of the president or blowback from his loyalists. This gives them the breathing room to worry more about the rule of law than partisanship. That was the point of an independent judiciary and giving lifetime appointments. It’s how the Constitution is supposed to work.
Judge Ilana Rovner, who was appointed to a district judgeship by Ronald Reagan and elevated to the circuit by George H.W. Bush, offers a remarkable rebuke of the Trump administration in a 35-page opinion that can be read as a tutorial on the separation of powers. She even throws around words like “tyranny” that you don’t often see in opinions of this nature:
The founders of our country well understood that the concentration of power threatens individual liberty and established a bulwark against such tyrannyby creating a separation of powers among the branches of government. If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken. The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement. But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds. In fact, Congress repeatedly refused to approve of measures that would tie funding to state and local immigration policies. Nor, as we will discuss, did Congress authorize the Attorney General to impose such conditions. It falls to us, the judiciary, as the remaining branch of the government, to act as a check on such usurpation of power. We are a country that jealously guards the separation of powers, and we must be ever‐vigilant in that endeavor.