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World & Nation

Federal judge affirms ruling blocking parts of Trump’s border wall funding

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Despite the fencing and wire, there is a gap in the wall in downtown El Paso that makes border crossing easy. It also funnels the migrants to an area where U.S border patrol agents can take them into custody.
(Carolyn Cole/ Los Angeles Times)

A federal judge in California has affirmed his preliminary decision to block President Trump’s attempt to build sections of a border wall using money redirected from military projects.

Ruling in two related cases, by U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. made permanent his injunction against planned projects that would have added fencing at the border with Mexico in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Work would already have begun on these projects barring the litigation.

Gilliam halted the projects in complementary rulings in two lawsuits — one filed by California and New Mexico and the other by the Sierra Club and a group called the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

“These rulings critically stop President Trump’s illegal money grab to divert $2.5 billion of unauthorized funding for his pet project,” said California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. “All President Trump has succeeded in building is a constitutional crisis, threatening immediate harm to our state.”

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Trump called the rulings a “disgrace,” in a news conference following the G-20 international economic summit in Osaka, Japan, “We’re immediately appealing it and we think we’ll win the appeal,” the president said. “There was no reason that that should have happened.”

The president had sought to divert Department of Defense funding by issuing a national emergency declaration.

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests,” the Feb. 15 declaration stated. It added that “the southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members and illicit narcotics.”

Stemming immigration at the Mexican border has been an integral theme of the Trump presidency.

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In addition to citing the declaration, the administration had argued that it possessed legal authority to redirect money to the wall from other Department of Defense projects. Trump’s team also asserted that the states and groups who filed suit had no standing to block the projects.

But in his decision, Gilliam asserted that he’d seen these same arguments before and that they were no more convincing when they were repeated without additional meaningful evidence. He had issued a preliminary ruling against the administration in May.

Administration lawyers presented “no new evidence or argument for why the court should depart from its prior decision, and it will not,” Gilliam wrote in his ruling, which was released late Friday.

The judge was swayed by evidence that “the item for which funds are requested has been denied by Congress.” He also rejected that the transfer was justified by “unforeseen military requirements.” And he concluded that Trump’s legal interpretations “would raise serious constitutional questions.”

The areas affected by the two rulings were named in legal papers as the El Centro Sector, El Paso Sector 1, Yuma Sector 1 and Tucson Sectors 1, 2 and 3.

The Trump team prevailed on less consequential portions of the rulings. Gilliam did not accept arguments from California and New Mexico that endangered populations of bighorn sheep and the Mexican wolf would suffer serious harm from wall construction. And the judge cleared the path for the administration to pursue a speedy appeal.

The ruling in the Sierra Club litigation reinforced and extended the impact of the lawsuit by the states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the Sierra Club.

“This decision upholds the basic principle that the president has no power to spend taxpayer money without Congress’ approval,” said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin, who argued the case. “We will continue to defend this core principle of our democracy, which the courts have recognized for centuries.”

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The Sierra Club had argued that its members would “suffer irreparable harm to their recreational and aesthetic interests.” Gilliam wrote that “it is well-established in the Ninth Circuit that an organization can demonstrate irreparable harm by showing that the challenged action will injure its members’ enjoyment of public land.”

The administration had countered that the public has “plenty of other space to enjoy.”

Gilliam rejected that logic because he said it could used to justifying any environmental harm.

“Congress considered all of defendants’ proffered needs for border barrier construction, weighed the public interest in such construction against defendants’ request for taxpayer money, and struck what it considered to be the proper balance — in the public’s interest — by making available only $1.375 billion in funding,” the judge wrote.

He noted that the funding approved by Congress was “not at issue here.”

Congress set aside $1.375 billion to extend or replace barriers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. But Trump wanted to spend $8 billion on wall construction, using authority allowed under an emergency declaration to siphon money from other government accounts.

A White House memo identified three funding sources: $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counter-drug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.

In a final shot at the administration, Gilliam said its position “boils down to an argument that the court should not enjoin conduct found to be unlawful because the ends justify the means. No case supports this principle.”

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howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume


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