President Trump’s transfer of $2.5 billion in military funds to pay for his border wall construction was illegal, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was a major defeat for the administration by holding that the executive branch intruded on the authority of the Congress, which controls spending and transferred funds without authority.
Sixteen states, led by California and New Mexico, sued to challenge funding taken from the military to spend on the border wall.
The 2-1 vote of the three-judge panel found the states provided sufficient evidence that construction of the wall would injure their quasi-sovereign interests by preventing them from enforcing environmental laws.
The funds transfer to build the El Paso and El Centro sectors was not an unforeseen military requirement, and that funding was denied by Congress.
In 2018, border wall funding came to an impasse during negotiations between Trump, who wanted $5.7 billion, and Congress. It led to the longest government shutdown in history, at 35 days. The shutdown ended in February 2019 when Congress approved $1.35 billion for construction of primary pedestrian fencing in the Rio Grande Valley.
The law allows Dept of Defense to transfer funds only in response to an “unforeseen military requirement,” said Chief Judge Sidney Thomas for the majority. “The district court properly concluded that the need for a border wall was not unforeseen. We also conclude that the need was unrelated to a military requirement,” Thomas said.
Congress rejected seven different bills proposed to fund a border wall and refused to appropriate $5.7 billion requested for the wall.
“Congress’s broad and resounding denial resulting in a 35-day partial government shutdown must constitute a previous denial” under the statute’s transfer authority, Thomas said.
Absent authority to transfer funds under the statute, “the executive branch lacked independent constitutional authority to transfer the funds at issue here,” he said.
In dissent, Judge Daniel Collins said the states lack any cause of action to challenge the transfers and thus concludes the tranfers were legal.
Case: State of California v. Trump, No. 19-16299