A US district judge has partially blocked another avenue for President Donald Trump to fulfill one of his election vows, barring him from diverting $1 billion in military funds to build two wall sections along the Mexican border.
US District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the Northern District of California has partially sided with the plaintiffs, environmental organization Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), ruling on Friday that the government must stop “taking any actions to construct a border barrier” in two areas in Arizona and Texas.
The court said the government cannot divert the money from the Pentagon budget to finance the two projects that would have added 57 miles of 18-foot-high fence to the wall. The decision pertains only to the $1 billion the US Department of Defense greenlighted to be transferred towards the construction of “pedestrian fencing,” roads and lightning within the Yuma and El Paso sections in March.
Justifying its decision, the court said that it is “likely” that the plaintiffs would be able to show that the Trump administration “exceeded their statutory authority” by declaring a national emergency over the situation on the border.
Gilliam cites numerous instances when Trump, frustrated by Congress’ unwillingness to give him $5.7 billion to build a wall, would say that he would get the money one way or another, even if he had to invoke his emergency powers. The court argues that the notion that a president can simply sidestep Congress if it does not agree with the administration’s policy undermines the checks and balances principle enshrined in the Constitution.
“The position that when the 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,” Gilliam wrote, noting that the federal legislature has “absolute” control over finances.
The court noted that the sweeping powers Congress wields in terms of financial oversight is “not a bug” but “an essential feature” of the US system that cannot be overlooked.
While the court granted the motion only partially, saying that it cannot establish whether “irreparable harm” would be caused in the cases where the government still has to pinpoint the locations of the fence, the Sierra Club hailed the ruling as a “big win.”