Trump, Barr Declare War on First Amendment With “Anarchist Jurisdictions” Label

The Department of Justice (DOJ) deemed three U.S. cities “anarchist jurisdictions” on Monday, in line with a memo issued by President Trump earlier this month that sought to put financial penalties on places where significant uprisings were happening in response to extrajudicial killings of Black Americans across the country.

New York City, Portland, and Seattle all received the formal designations from the DOJ, the department announced, for having allegedly “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.”

As laid out in a memo by Trump on September 2, those cities could be restricted from receiving federal grants and other funding after being designated “anarchist jurisdictions.”

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

In response to the designation, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted the moniker was an inappropriate one to dish out, citing his own personal experiences on Monday morning walking in the city he is in charge of governing.

“I was out in Elmhurst Queens this morning, I saw peace, tranquility, I saw people going about their business, people excited that it’s the first day of school — I saw anything but anarchy,” de Blasio said. “This is just another one of President Trump’s games. It’s insulting to the people of New York City and his effort to withhold our funding is unconstitutional.”

The authority to issue out the designation of “anarchist jurisdiction” to U.S. cities is questionable, from a legal perspective. While the September 2 memo from Trump outlines specific instances by which a city may be named an “anarchist jurisdiction,” it also allows for Barr to justify issuing the term based on “any other related factors the Attorney General deems appropriate.”

Trump’s authorizing the attorney general to assign such designations, however, did not include a single legal citation justifying his ability to do so. There is also a strong possibility that the cities named on Monday will challenge their newfound designations in the courts, especially if they result in loss of funding from the federal government.

One of the main criticisms regarding this memo authorizing defunding of jurisdictions is that it is not a power the president has at his disposal, unless Congress has specifically granted it.

Sasha Samberg-Champion, a former DOJ Civil Rights Division attorney, decried the memo when it was released.

“As courts have repeatedly reminded the Trump Administration, the Spending Clause power is in Article I. It belongs to _Congress._ And Congress has not seen fit to condition federal money on any of this,” Samberg-Champion tweeted at the time.

It’s likely that attempts to label cities “anarchist jurisdictions” serves a dual purpose for this administration. Aside from seeking to punish the cities Trump disagrees with, especially in regards to protests supporting the movement for Black lives, the memo issued out earlier this month and the designations made on Monday may be a means to rile up the president’s base of support just six weeks out from Election Day.