A federal judge on Friday temporarily stopped President Donald Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to spend money on border wall construction that Congress did not allocate for that purpose, writing at one point in his order that “the Court has serious concerns with Defendants’ theory of appropriations law.”
The temporary block does not affect all of the money Trump wants to divert for a border wall, but rather just the first $1 billion; the rest of the funds — currently allocated for “military construction” — aren’t projected to be used for wall construction immediately, and therefore weren’t required to be enjoined immediately, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the Northern District of California said.
“The Court finds that the language and purpose of Section 8005 and Section 2214(b) likely preclude Defendants’ attempt to transfer $1 billion from funds Congress previously appropriated for military personnel costs to the drug interdiction fund for the construction of a border barrier,” Gilliam wrote, granting a preliminary injunction requested by the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
A staff attorney for the ACLU, whose lawyers worked on the case, called the injunction “a win for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and border communities.”
Trump’s declaration of emergency to shift money for a border wall was novel: Not only had Congress not allocated the wall money, it had actively refused to pass legislation fulfilling the White House’s request for $5.7 billion in wall funds.
“[T]he reality is that Congress was presented with—and declined to grant—a $5.7 billion request for border barrier construction,” Gilliam wrote.
Gilliam also took issue with the Trump administration’s assertion that the use of Defense Department funds to build a border wall was “unforeseen,” in the same way diverting funds for, say, a natural disaster response would be unforeseen.
“Nothing presented by the Defendants suggests that its interpretation is what Congress had in mind when it imposed the “unforeseen” limitation, especially where, as here, multiple agencies are openly coordinating in an effort to build a project that Congress declined to fund,” he added separately. “The Court thus finds it likely that Plaintiffs will succeed on this claim.”
Congress’s “absolute” control over the government’s purse strings, the judge wrote in conclusion “is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one.”