President Trump gestures during a rally in Tampa this week. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court in California ruled Wednesday that President Trump acted beyond his authority when issuing an executive order attempting to penalize “sanctuary cities” for refusing to cooperate with the administration’s immigration crackdown.

The decision, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, barred the Trump administration from defunding San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the case’s two plaintiffs, but it did not uphold a nationwide injunction issued late last year by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California. Instead, by a vote of 2 to 1, the three-judge panel sent the case back to the district court for additional fact-finding on the order’s nationwide impact.

Cities and states across the country had varying responses to Trump’s executive order, which he signed in January 2017. Some initiated lawsuits and others introduced noncooperation legislation.

California, which has clashed with the administration repeatedly over efforts to curtail legal and illegal immigration, refused to comply with Trump’s order. In response, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against California in March. Three state laws, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “intentionally obstruct and discriminate against the enforcement of federal immigration law,” impeding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from deporting noncitizens.

“Today’s divided Ninth Circuit opinion is a victory for criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement. “The Justice Department continues to maintain that — as the dissenting judge recognized — the President exercised his lawful authority when he issued the sanctuary city Executive Order.”

Wednesday’s ruling follows Orrick’s November decision that the president’s requirement to hold, detain and turn over noncitizens to the federal government reached beyond his authority. Federal law only requires the sharing of information by state and local governments with federal officials, not more.

The decision is seen as step forward for immigration advocates in their ongoing battle with the Trump administration. “Yet again, the rule of law trumps the president’s efforts to advance his war against hard-working families who can’t normalize their status in America,” California state Sen. Kevin de León (D) told The Washington Post.

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