On Friday, a federal judge ruled that construction on a 79-mile stretch of the border wall on the US-Mexico border cannot proceed. The new ruling stops work on a section of the wall that was meant to span from El Centro, California, to Tucson, Arizona.
The case was brought before the federal judge by the ACLU, who brought the case on behalf of the environmental group Sierra Club and the community organization the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The two organizations argued that building the wall in these areas would cause harm to “recreational and aesthetic interests” of the region. The landscape included features national monuments, reserves, and rivers.
The groups also argued that the money the Trump administration set aside for that span of the wall had been improperly appropriated.
US District Court Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of Oakland found that the Trump administration had illegally planned to build the wall with Congressional funds that had not been earmarked for that purpose. The Pentagon planned to finance the California-Arizona section of wall using $1.5 billion from military pay and training accounts through a Department of Defense counterdrug program.
The Trump administration argued that money could be used for the border wall because Trump declared a national emergency declaration back in February, but the money used for the border wall needs to be approved by Congress. Congress has not approved border wall use of the Department of Defense money.
The judge explained his reading of the Constitution’s explanation of the separation of powers with respect to the appropriation of funds.
“Congress’s ‘absolute’ control over federal expenditures — even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important — is not a bug in our constitutional system,” Gilliam wrote in a 56-page decision. “In short, the position that when Congress declines the Executive’s request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds ‘without Congress’ does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic.”
According to Vox’s Dara Lind “lawmakers gave the White House $341 million in 2017 and $1.375 billion in 2018 to upgrade and repair to existing wall infrastructure. A fight over wall funding that led to an extended government shutdown early in 2019 ended in an agreement for an additional $1.375 billion. This was far less than the $5.7 billion Trump hoped to receive, and after the government reopened, he declared a national emergency, announcing plans to use the powers given to him by the National Emergencies Act to use federal funds to make up the difference.”
“We applaud the court’s decision to protect our Constitution, communities, and the environment today,” said Gloria Smith, managing attorney at the Sierra Club. “Walls divide neighborhoods, worsen dangerous flooding, destroy lands and wildlife, and waste resources that should instead be used on the infrastructure these communities truly need.”
“Congress was clear in denying funds for Trump’s xenophobic obsession with a wasteful, harmful wall,” said Dror Ladin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “This decision upholds the basic principle that the president has no power to spend taxpayer money without Congress’s approval.”