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California to sue Trump administration over national emergency declaration

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the state would probably sue President Trump over his emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that California was planning to sue the Trump administration over its declaration of a national emergency on the southern border with Mexico, delivering on a promise state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra made last week “to reject this foolish proposal in court the moment it touches the ground.”

Newsom and Becerra announced they were developing plans for the legal action at a Capitol news conference just hours after President Trump declared a national emergency in an attempt to divert up to $6.6 billion from other projects, including military construction jobs, to build or reinforce as many as 234 miles of border barriers.

“Fortunately, Donald Trump is not the last word,” Newsom said. “The courts will be the last word.”

Newsom called the wall “a vanity project, a monument to stupidity,” and said the real emergency was the wildfire disaster that needed federal funds.

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“No other state is going to be impacted by this declaration of emergency more than the state of California,” the governor said.

Becerra said attorneys were reviewing the declaration and would develop the legal argument to take to court in the near future.

“No one in America is above the law, not even the president of the United States,” Becerra said. “He can’t do this because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the powers to direct dollars, the powers of the purse.”

Becerra said he was talking to other states about joining in a legal challenge.

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Asked about the timing of a federal lawsuit, Becerra said: “We’ll be ready soon.”

Trump said the action was needed after Congress blocked his efforts to get significant funds for the wall.

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border,” the president said Friday at the White House.

California faces a challenge in showing it has standing to sue over the declaration, said Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law.

“It’s not clear how California or any of its agencies is injured by Trump’s declaration of a national emergency,” Winkler said. “It may come down to which programs he uses to finance the wall.”

Newsom said he is concerned that Trump may seek to divert money from existing programs in California, including efforts to fight drug trafficking.

Even if it is determined that the state has standing, Trump may prevail at the highest court, Winkler said.

“The Supreme Court was deferential to Donald Trump’s claims of national security in the travel ban case and the justices may be inclined to defer to the president on this kind of case too,” he said.

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In his Spanish-language response to the president’s State of the Union address last week, Becerra said he was prepared to go to court. Newsom and Becerra repeated their warning of legal action on Thursday, saying in a joint statement that “the President’s ‘national emergency’ is nothing more than a fabrication while real emergencies are awaiting his action. If the President tries to use a made up emergency to pay for his border wall, then California will see him in court.”

The lawsuit announced Friday would be the 46th legal challenge filed by Becerra against the Trump administration, and California has had a mixed record of success.

On Monday, a federal appeals court rejected a legal challenge by California that attempted to stop rebuilding of some sections of the existing U.S.-Mexico border wall, ruling that the Trump administration did not exceed its authority when it waived environmental regulations for projects near San Diego.

Becerra defended his record of suing the Trump administration, saying his successes have included a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this week to hear a challenge to the Trump administration plan to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census.

“In most cases we have been proven to be correct,” Becerra said.

Newsom said the declaration Friday could “take the rug out” from under law enforcement efforts in California against drug trafficking.

Trump predicted Friday that his action would draw legal challenges, saying, “We will then be sued. … We will possibly get another bad ruling,” but adding that he thought he would win in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Newsom lashed out at Trump and the Senate for failing to approve a $12-billion disaster relief package that the Democratic-controlled House passed in January. The funding would have helped rebuild areas of California devastated by the 2018 wildfires, as well as provide assistance to Florida and other states ravaged by hurricanes.

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The governor accused Trump of playing politics with that disaster money and diverting the nation’s attention to the “sideshow” over the border wall.

“There’s $12 billion of appropriation that the president of the United States didn’t even pay lip service to,” Newsom said. “There are millions of Americans right now waiting for those dollars — emergency money to change their lives. These people are under enormous stress and anxiety.”

The attorney general said it appeared Trump was hoping, through an expected court battle over the declaration, to use the U.S. Supreme Court as a “tool” to fulfill a campaign promise.

What is happening at the border is not the same as other previous national emergencies, he said.

“This is not 9/11. This is not the Iran hostage crisis of 1979,” Becerra said. “This is a president showing his disdain for the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.”

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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