(CNN)New York City, Seattle and Portland filed a complaint Thursday challenging the Trump administration’s designation of the Democratic-led cities as “anarchist” jurisdictions in hopes of blocking the President’s threat to withhold federal funding.
In a news conference earlier Thursday, New York City Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson said the city is taking legal action now because the Trump administration has taken “concrete steps” and begun including the “anarchist” designation in applications for federal grants.
“There is no basis in law, there is no basis in fact, for this anarchist determination, and yet they are going to use it to determine who does and who does not get federal funding,” he said.
The complaint points to the Federal Transit Administration’s announcement earlier this month that it would consider applications for a Covid-19 public transportation research grant based on the Justice Department’s “anarchist” designations.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Western District of Washington. Johnson cited the deployment of federal troops in “battledress uniforms in western cities” as his reason why Seattle was the “appropriate” place for the filing.
The cities argue that the administration’s actions violates Congress’ spending power and states and localities’ authority to police and provide public safety as they see fit.
Johnson maintained that the Trump administration is stepping “way over their bounds,” adding that Congress “controls the power of the purse, not the Trump administration.”
Last month, President Donald Trump threatened to pull federal funding from major US cities — all in blue states and led by Democrats — with ongoing protests, on the unfounded accusation that their leaders are allowing “anarchy, violence, and destruction.” Notably absent from the list are Minneapolis and Kenosha, Wisconsin, which have also seen unrest over the summer but are located in more competitive states as it relates to the presidential election.
The President’s memo directed Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought to issue guidance to federal agencies on how they can legally withhold grants from localities.
Later that month, the US Department of Justice identified New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchy” jurisdictions, claiming that the three cities have “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist” and “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.”
Several constitutional law experts previously told CNN that Trump’s threat to deny federal funding has little legal backbone.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at Thursday’s news conference called Trump’s threat a “totally political action” that threatens the lives of New Yorkers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s morally wrong, it’s legally unacceptable, it’s unconstitutional, and we’re going to fight it,” the Democratic mayor said, adding later that he’s “confident of victory in this case.”
In their lawsuit, the cities argued that the DOJ’s anarchist designation harms them by putting their federal funding at “imminent risk” during a “time of fiscal crisis” and has caused “severe” budget uncertainty.
Johnson said New York is at risk of losing an excess of $12 billion in funding.
“The Cities rely on billions of dollars in federal funding to provide a range of vital services, including housing, public transportation, and emergency relief,” the lawsuit reads. “The funding threat could not come at a worse time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged municipal finances, draining reserves and forcing painful budget cuts.”
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc and Christina Carrega contributed to this report.