In summary

In a pre-Super Bowl interview with FOX News host Bill O’Reilly, President Trump said “California is in many ways out of control” and that a potential weapon of his would be to seek to “defund” the state because of sanctuary status. State Democratic leaders pushed back, given that California pays more in than it receives back from Washington.

The burgeoning political standoff between California and the Trump administration took another step into unprecedented terrain this week when, on a pre-Super Bowl televised interview, the President denounced California as “out of control” and contemplated cutting its federal funding. The threat came in response to moves by the Democratic-controlled Legislature toward providing additional legal protections for undocumented immigrants and labeling California itself a “sanctuary state.”

But with President Donald Trump issuing an executive order to defund sanctuary jurisdictions, and San Francisco suing to have the order declared unconstitutional, a number of questions remain—not the least of which is “can the President really defund an entire state?”

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State Democratic leaders pushed back, noting that California pays more in than it receives back from Washington.

Said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles): “President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities.

Despite all the controversy, there is no single definition of what a sanctuary jurisdiction actually is. Broadly speaking, a city, county, or state is considered to have sanctuary status if it puts some restrictions on the degree to which its law enforcement officials can enforce immigration law. Opponents call this obstruction of federal law; sanctuary city defenders counter that it’s not the job of state and local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Ironically, California’s best defense against de-funding here might be that favorite legal claim of conservatives: state’s rights. And courts have ruled that federal funding options can’t be so coercive that they pass the point where “pressure turns into compulsion” and they deprive local or state governments of any real choice about policy decisions. For example, the federal government makes a small fraction of highway funding contingent on each state maintaining a legal drinking age of 21. The Supreme Court has held that this restriction wasn’t unduly coercive because of the relatively small stakes involved. But what about a threat to take away all federal funding?

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Through his executive orders and in other ways, President Trump is likely to test the limits of these precedents. Read the full CALmatters story:

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...