SCOTUS to hear case involving military funds, border wall construction

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case involving the Trump administration’s use of military funds for border wall construction.

Following an appeals court decision in June, the Supreme Court announced Monday it would hear the case involving a challenge to the Trump administration’s use of military funds for border wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border filed by several environmental groups last year.

In late June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it was unlawful for the Trump administration to transfer Department of Defense money, specifically military pay and pension funds, for border wall construction.

A setback for the Trump administration, the three-judge panel ruled the administration could not circumvent Congress by transferring billions in Department of Defense funds for border wall construction.

The panel held that the Executive Branch lacked “independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds” — and reaffirmed a lower court’s ruling that halted construction related to those funds with a permanent injunction.

Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas gave the court’s June opinion; in addition, U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw and Circuit Judge Daniel P. Collins, made up the panel. Collins dissented.

The original complaint was filed in February 2019 by several civil rights and environmentalist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sierra Club, over the president’s emergency declaration to use billions in DoD funds for border walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Multiple lawsuits, filed in 2019 and 2020, argue the president violated the U.S. Constitution by overstepping his executive authority and sidestepping Congress to fund wall construction along the southern border when he declared a national emergency on the border in order to use the funds for wall construction.

The panel also ruled that Sierra Club’s lawsuit was a proper party to challenge the funds transfers, and concluded that Sierra Club had both a constitutional and an ultra vires cause of action, and could continue.

In its arguments, both in district court and at the appeals level, the administration has held that no injured party — not the ACLU’s clients, not affected states, and not even Congress — can go to court to challenge the administration’s actions.

Despite victories in the lower district court and the appeals court decision in June, the Trump administration has continued its construction of border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border due to a Supreme Court stay order in late July.

Monday’s announcement by the Supreme Court to hear the challenges was met with optimism by representatives of the aforementioned plaintiffs.

“Everyone knows that Trump failed to get Congress to fund his xenophobic wall obsession, and every lower court that has considered the case has found that the President has no authority to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on construction,” ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin said in a  news release Monday.

Gloria Smith, a managing attorney with Sierra Club, said they are prepared to make arguments before the highest court in the country.

“The Trump administration has misused military funds for the construction of a wall that has caused lasting harm to the ecosystems and communities of the borderlands, damaged sacred Indigenous lands beyond repair, and destroyed wildlife and habitats along the border. Stopping this wasteful and irreversible damage is long overdue, and we look forward to making our case before the Supreme Court,” she said.

Earlier this year, ACLU representatives alluded to the case potentially being heard before the November election.