The previous Department of Justice put conditions on the JAG money, restricting funds meant for some police departments.

RICHMOND-Just over $10 million in law enforcement grants will be coming to Virginia this month, just a couple years late. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a decision by the Trump administration this week, removing restrictions put in place. 

Every year, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country rely on federal JAG grants to fund part of their operation. Virginia is no different. The Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants fund everything from a local police department’s technology upgrades to drug treatment programs. Then, in 2017, the U.S. Justice Department under Jeff Sessions made some changes. 

At that point, the Trump administration was attacking so-called “sanctuary cities” for refusing to work with federal immigration authorities. As part of that, Sessions changed the requirements to receive JAG money. In order to receive the grant, any group that received it had to follow certain conditions. 

First, they had to “report on” state and local compliance with the department’s new information sharing law. Specifically, the information sharing law banned any state or local government from restricting information about any individual’s citizenship or immigration status from the federal government. If the federal government wanted information about someone, a state had to hand it over. In order to get a grant, recipients had to report any violations of that plan.

Second, they had to let the Department of Homeland Security know when any immigrants were scheduled to be released from prison. Third, they had to let any and all federal agents have access to prisons, in order to question immigrants about their legal status. 

The Lawsuits Start, Then Garland Steps In

Virginia and several other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, sued. In July 2018, attorney generals from each of the states involved signed on to a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Four months later, the district judge agreed with the states, determining that Sessions and the DOJ didn’t have the authority to put these new conditions on law enforcement grants. 

On the one hand, that’s where part of the situation ended. The judge ordered the DOJ to give each of the states all money owed. However, since Sessions appealed the judge’s ruling, that meant Virginia and the other states got no JAG money for 2017. The same held true for 2018, 2019 and 2020 as the case dragged on. 

Even after Sessions was forced out and Bill Barr took over as U.S. Attorney General, the appeals continued. It eventually ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the states filed arguments on December 7 of last year. Federal officials didn’t file their documents until Jan. 6 of this year, however. Why is that important? Because the Supreme Court at that point couldn’t schedule a hearing until February at the earliest, pushing the case out of the Trump administration’s hands.

The case never actually made it before the justices. At first, it kept getting rescheduled, due to the delays appointing Merrick Garland as U.S. Attorney General. Garland’s office asked the court to dismiss the case in March and then on Tuesday of this week, officially rescinded the immigration conditions. 

That’s a retroactive decision, meaning each state will receive the full amount of JAG funding for 2017-2020. For Virginia, that translates to just over $10 million.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at brian@vadogwood.com.