A new lawsuit filed by Oakland, Calfornia, and Portland, Oregon, questioning the legal justification for federal agents’ deployment, alleging that it is a violation of federal law and unconstitutional.
“The administration needs to be held accountable for trying to expand its authority beyond what’s a reasonable scope,” said Jonathan Miller, the legal director for the Public Rights Project, serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit.
Miller said that the suit aims to curtail future deployments of federal agents and other personnel.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, declares that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice exceeded their authority under federal statutes when they brought in officers. It also argues that deputizing local police officers, as the government did in Portland, is a violation of the Tenth Amendment’s restriction on commandeering local law enforcement.
“There is no place in our American constitutional system for the federal government to insert itself into Portland’s decisions about how local police respond to public demonstrations on our city streets,” expressed Jim Middaugh, the Director of Communications for the City of Portland.
However, DHS believes that the department acted lawfully and that the lawsuit aims to distract from Trump’s “law and order agenda.” “Instead of condemning the violence we are seeing across the country, these politicians focus on scoring cheap political points to the detriment of the American people,” a DHS representative said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is the defendant in the lawsuit. Wolf ordered several federal officers to Portland to quell civil unrest. The agents drew alarm for some of their actions – such as snatching individuals off the streets into unmarked minivans.
The Trump administration cited a June executive order that expanded federal authority to protect federal property against damage as the reason for deployment. The suit questions the executive order and argues that this justification was an excuse for intervening in the protests against police brutality and racism.
Apparently, agents patrolled outside the bounds of federal properties, read protestors’ text messages, and built a fence on city property around the federal courthouse.
“President Trump and Defendants have repeatedly made public comments revealing that the officially stated goal of operations such as those in Portland is not protecting property. Instead, their statements suggest that the animating and invidious purpose for these actions is to punish progressive cities and leaders and violently quell the exercise of constitutionally protected activity,” the lawsuit reflects.
In July, as part of a settlement, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew troops from Portland. The administration is still entwined in local enforcement, which is an additional issue in the cities’ suit.
“One of the bedrock principles of federalism is that police powers are reserved to the states and delegated typically to the cities,” said LiJia Gong, the Public Rights Project’s counsel.
“Federal deputation is causing concern and confusion among some community members about who is in control of the local police,” Middaugh stated. Middaugh believes that an effective dialogue with the community about police reform has to be clear. Local elected officials have the power and authority to determine how their government will operate without federal interference.
Trump said that he would deploy law enforcement officials to poll-watch on Election Day.
“The case filed with Oakland and the Public Rights Project challenges the starkest example of the federal government illegally imposing its over-reaching policies onto the streets of Portland in violation of local community values and needs,” declared Middaugh.