SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court ruled Friday against the Trump administration in its transfer of $ 2.5 billion of military construction projects to build sections of the United States border wall with Mexico, ruling that it illegally evaded Congress, who decides how to use the funds.
In two opinions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with a coalition of border states and environmental groups that held that the money transfer was illegal and that building the wall would pose environmental threats.
The rulings were the latest twist in the legal battle that has largely followed Trump’s path. Last July, the Supreme Court allowed the $ 2.5 billion to be spent as the litigation continued, mitigating the impact of the latest appeal court action.
The administration has already awarded much of the money, including a $ 1.3 billion job in Arizona that was announced last month. Trump visited Yuma, Arizona, on Tuesday to mark the completion of the 200-mile border wall during his administration, largely with the transferred military funds that the Ninth Circuit panel deemed illegal.
After the $ 2.5 billion transfer of military funds, the Pentagon diverted another $ 3.6 billion that an appeals court in New Orleans ruled in January that they could be spent.
Still, critics of the Trump wall praised Friday’s decisions to defend the Constitution, which gives Congress the power of the purse.
“The funds he is stealing, which were appropriated by Congress, are vital to supporting the safety and well-being of the brave uniformed men and women, as well as their families,” said Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. Of California.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Trump administration not only lacked the authority to authorize the transfer of funds, “but also violated an express constitutional ban designed to protect individual liberties.”
The vote on both rulings was 2-1 with judges appointed by former President Bill Clinton in the majority and a dissident candidate for Trump.
The panel said the government was proceeding with the construction of the border wall without guaranteeing compliance with environmental regulations, thereby harming the interests of Sierra Club members who visit the border region for hiking, bird watching and other recreational activities.
The panel also held that the government did not demonstrate that construction would stop the flow of illegal drugs. He said the administration had cited drug statistics, but did not address how the wall would impact the problem.
“The fact that the executive branch does not demonstrate, in concrete terms, that the public interest favors a border wall is particularly significant given that Congress determined that the fence is a lower budget priority and Justice Department data points to a contrary conclusion, “wrote the majority. .
The White House said the decisions will not interfere with its ability to continue building the wall, noting that the Supreme Court has reversed many of the court’s decisions.
After the Supreme Court gave the green light last year to begin work on the wall using money from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department promised to continue defending the administration’s efforts to protect the southern border.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a coalition of attorneys general from 20 states that sued the administration, praised the court decision.
“While the Trump administration steals public funds to build an unauthorized wall on the southern border, families across the country are struggling to pay their bills,” said Becerra. “They deserve to know that their hard-earned dollars go toward what Congress intended: to benefit them and their communities.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that if the Trump administration appeals, the case will go back to the Supreme Court, where the ACLU will seek to tear down sections of the wall that they built with military money
“The damage that has been done cannot be undone, but we will return to the Supreme Court to finally stop this destructive wall,” said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin.