Portland joins Seattle, New York in lawsuit challenging Trump adminstration’s ‘anarchist jurisdiction’ designation

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Oct. 22, 2020 8:29 p.m.

The city of Portland has joined Seattle and New York in a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging the president’s threat to pull millions in federal funds from the three liberal-leaning cities he has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced last month it intended to strip funding from cities where, it argued, local leaders were refusing to crack down on criminal activity. Seattle, New York and Portland made the list — all largely Democratic cities that have been home to racial justice protests for months.


“The President singled out three progressive cities — Portland, Seattle and New York City — and threatened federal support critical to protecting vulnerable residents,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement. “Portland, Seattle and New York will fight this illegal designation to preserve federal investments designed to help our most vulnerable residents.”

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington Thursday, asks a judge to block the White House from cutting sorely-needed federal funding. These cuts would come at a time when all three cities are experiencing devastating funding shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 51-page legal filing details a host of reasons why the three cities believe the Trump administration has dramatically overstepped its authority in threatening funding cuts from cities whose approach to policing and budgeting the administration opposes. Attorneys emphasized that Congress is the branch that is supposed to make budget decisions and the White House has effectively snatched the power of the purse to pressure cities into trampling on protesters' right to free speech.

A man knocked out the "DE" in "DEFUND" outside Portland City Hall on Aug. 30, 2020.

A man knocked out the "DE" in "DEFUND" outside Portland City Hall on Aug. 30, 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

“It is evident that one of the general objectives is to push — indeed, to compel — the Cities to unconstitutionally suppress First Amendment activity based on the content of the speech,” the filing reads. “Viewed in connection with the President’s tweets and other actions, the Anarchist Memo and Designation plainly aim to coerce the Cities to suppress only political protests with which he disagrees”

The suit contends the U.S. Department of Justice used a random rationale when it announced the three cities it had labeled anarchist jurisdictions. Portland, for example, was chosen due to protests “marred by vandalism, chaos, and even killing,” a spike in shootings, an August letter in which Wheeler rejected the deployment of federal officers, and a $15 million cut from the Portland Police Bureau budget, according to a press release by the DOJ.

“The Attorney General based his decision, made via a press release, on an arbitrary and capricious list of misleading and cherry-picked bullet-points about each City that in no way supports the assertion that the Cities have chosen to abandon their jurisdictions to lawlessness and violence,” the lawsuit reads.

The White House has not yet publicly responded to the lawsuit.

The suit was flied a day after reports that the Trump administration is inching closer to cutting the funds. Politico reported Wednesday that the Trump administration is looking to cut funding for health programs that provide screenings for newborns and treatment for coronavirus and HIV in New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Portland. That includes a $1.8 million grant to assist health centers treating COVID-19 patients in Multnomah County.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said county leaders are also considering their legal options, though she noted the November presidential election could make the looming legal fight irrelevant.

“We’re always worried. There’s not any rhyme or reason with this president and his administration lashing out at jurisdictions and lashing out at vulnerable populations,” she said. “Hopefully we will get through the rest of this month and things will change.”