Trump Plan to Divert Military Budget to Border Wall Is Rejected

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Texas said he would block President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border with funds shifted from the Pentagon’s construction budget.

U.S. District Judge David Briones in El Paso, Texas, ruled Friday that Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to redirect Defense Department appropriations to a wall project that Congress specifically refused to pay for was illegal. He told the plaintiffs to draft a preliminary injunction for his review.

The ruling conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in July to let Trump begin diverting the money as litigation over the matter proceeded.

“The court agrees with plaintiffs that the proclamation and subsequent government actions of obtaining funding from various sources to build a border wall between El Paso County and Mexico incurs the risk of harm to El Paso County’s reputation,” the judge wrote.

The case is the latest of several court challenges by opponents of Trump’s plan. But it differs from the others, filed in California and Washington, D.C., which focus largely on the wall’s geographical, environmental and social disruptions.

El Paso County has experienced actual harm from the language the president uses when he talks about immigration, Stuart Gerson, a lawyer representing wall opponents, said in an interview before the ruling.

Local tourism and economic activity plunged after Trump’s characterization of El Paso as a “criminal hellhole” overrun by an “invasion of illegal immigrants,” Gerson said, paraphrasing the president. “And part of that was getting a nut case with a gun who came to El Paso and did horrible damage.” On Aug. 3, a gunman targeting Hispanics killed 22 and wounded 24 shoppers at a Walmart store.

The El Paso wall-funding challenge is also backed by prominent liberals and conservatives who’ve come together to fight what they believe is an overreaching president.

“This president has taken to himself a power the framers delegated to Congress -- the power of the purse,” said Gerson, who held senior Justice Department posts under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “This is not a typical liberal-versus-conservative argument. We’ve got a constitution. Enforce it.”

Trump administration lawyers contend that the president’s ability to declare a national emergency and redirect congressional appropriations to fund his preferred projects can’t be reviewed by a judge. Trump has repeatedly called for a physical barrier along the Mexican border to deter undocumented migrants, drug runners and human traffickers, without offering evidence that it would accomplish all those goals. The wall was a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign.

On Sept. 3, the Pentagon confirmed it would redirect $3.6 billion in military construction funds to the border wall. Trump originally requested $5.7 billion in federal funds and reluctantly accepted Congress’s $1.375 billion allocation to end a political standoff that partly shut down the government for 35 days in December and January.

Trump declared a national emergency in February and asked the Pentagon to divert as much as $8.1 billion to build the wall.

The case is El Paso County, TX v. Trump, 19-66, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (El Paso).

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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