Madigan sues U.S. over blocked law enforcement grant money

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Thursday filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice, alleging it is illegally withholding millions in law enforcement grant funding in retaliation for the state’s refusal to cooperate with a new federal immigration policy.

The suit, which accuses the DOJ of “multiple violations of federal statutes and the Constitution of the United States,” seeks a declaratory judgment, forcing the release of $6.5 million in what is called Byrne JAG (Judge Advocate General) grant funding. That funding, which is mandated under federal law, is allocated to numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

“Rather than affirming the public safety goals Congress codified in the Byrne JAG statutes, (the Justice Department) have sought to use Byrne JAG funding as a tool to further their immigration enforcement agenda,” Madigan’s suit states.

Madigan alleges that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other DOJ officials have “explicitly targeted the State for denial of Byrne JAG funds based on Sessions’ opposition to the Illinois Trust Act, a State law, enacted in 2017, that encourages cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

Madigan said that the DOJ informed Illinois officials that the Trust Act violates federal law by preventing communications between law enforcement and immigration authorities. Madigan said that contention is false, and that the Trust Act “expressly provides that it shall not be construed to restrict or prohibit any communications between law enforcement and immigration authorities.”

The DOJ under Sessions, Madigan contends, “refuse(s) to award Byrne JAG funds to law enforcement entities unless they agree to actively assist (the federal government) in immigration enforcement.”

Madigan noted in her suit that the Federal Seventh Circuit court in Chicago “recently concluded that (the DOJ’s) position is unlawful.” She called the DOJ’s actions “contrary to law, good policing, and common sense,” and added that the executive branch of government, of which the DOJ is a part, does not have authority to withhold funding authorized by Congress.

“The Constitution vests the spending power in Congress, not the President,” Madigan wrote. “The President does not have unilateral authority to refuse to spend funds that have already been appropriated by Congress for a particular project or program. Imposing a new condition on a federal grant program amounts to refusing to spend money appropriated by Congress unless that condition is satisfied.”

Madigan said that JAG funding has for many years helped county and local law enforcement pay for such things as additional police personnel, equipment, and training, drug treatment and enforcement programs, and support programs for crime victims and witnesses.

Should the DOJ be allowed to withhold that funding, Madigan said, “Illinois will be faced with the difficult task of deciding whether and to what extent to reduce funding for critical law enforcement initiatives.”