Supreme Court Allows Trump to Reallocate Military Funds for Border Wall Construction

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned a lower court's injunction that had barred the Trump administration from using certain reallocated military funds to pay for construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

The court's split decision unfreezes approximately $2.5 billion in money that had originally been allocated by Congress for use by the Defense Department. President Donald Trump failed in early 2019 to secure sought-after funding from Congress for the border wall he has repeatedly pledged to construct, and so he attempted to reallocate this money to spend on replacing existing border barriers with new walls in portions of California, Arizona and New Mexico.

A number of organizations, including the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union, sued to halt the reallocation of these funds, arguing that the president had overstepped his authority. In May, a federal judge issued an injunction preventing the money from being used for construction pending the outcome of the legal dispute. A federal appeals court in July rejected the government's request to lift the injunction.

The Trump administration then took their case to the Supreme Court in mid-July, asking for an "administrative stay" that would lift the injunction pending the high court's decision on whether or not it will hear the dispute.

The Sierra Club and others behind the lawsuit have argued that construction needs to be put on hold until the legal issues are resolved because moving forward with construction could result in irreparable harm. However, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that the government's need to build the wall greatly outweighed the other parties "interests in hiking, bird watching, and fishing in designated drug-smuggling corridors."

Francisco had asked the court to decide on the stay before today, July 26, saying that if the funds were not freed up by that deadline, they would likely go back to the Treasury unspent and would need to be allocated by Congress all over again. In effect, said the government, the injunction would have acted as a final judgment instead of the temporary ban it was meant to be.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan opposed granting the stay. A fourth, Justice Stephen Breyer, argued in a partial dissent that he would have granted the stay in order to prevent the funds from being returned to the Treasury, but barred the government from moving forward with construction until the court decided whether it would grant the government's petition to hear its appeal.

"Allowing the Government to finalize the contracts at issue, but not to begin construction, would alleviate the most pressing harm claimed by the Government without risking irreparable harm to respondents," wrote Breyer. "Respondents do not suggest that they will be harmed by finalization of the contracts alone, and there is reason to believe they would not be."

Gloria Smith, managing attorney with the Sierra Club, would likely disagree with that sentiment.

"Today's decision to permit the diversion of military funds for border wall construction will wall off and destroy communities, public lands, and waters in California, New Mexico, and Arizona," said Smith in a statement to Newsweek. "We've seen the destruction that the ever-expanding border wall has inflicted."

Smith said the Sierra Club intends to continue the legal battle over the border wall.

"This is not over," said Dror Ladin, staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, which filed the suit on behalf of the Sierra Club. "We will be asking the federal appeals court to expedite the ongoing appeals proceeding to halt the irreversible and imminent damage from Trump's border wall. Border communities, the environment, and our Constitution's separation of powers will be permanently harmed should Trump get away with pillaging military funds for a xenophobic border wall Congress denied."

Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which is also a party to the lawsuit, argued today that the reallocation of funds will ultimately do harm to the region.

"Trump's desire to divert military funds for his deadly and dangerous wall will only further degrade the binational character of our region and threaten the quality of life of the 15 million people who call the southern border home," said Gaubeca in a statement. "Trump's attempts to sidestep Congress are a direct assault on the checks and balances that represent the bedrock of our democracy."

Trump tweeted that today's ruling was a "big victory."

"The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed," he wrote. "Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!"

border wall
Workers continue construction on the U.S.- Mexican border wall on February 12, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty