SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the Trump administration in its transfer of $2.5 billion from military construction projects to build sections of the U.S. border wall with Mexico, ruling it illegally sidestepped Congress, which gets to decide how to use the funds.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a coalition of border states and environmental groups that contended the money transfer was unlawful and that building the wall would pose environmental threats.
The ruling was the latest twist in the legal battle that has largely gone Trump’s way. Last July, the Supreme Court allowed the $2.5 billion to be spent while the litigation continued, blunting the impact of the latest appeals court action.
The administration has already awarded much of the money, including a $1.3-billion job in Arizona that was announced last month. Trump visited Yuma, Arizona, on Tuesday to mark completion of the 200th mile of border wall during his administration, much of it with the transferred military funds that the 9th Circuit panel found illegal.
After the $2.5 billion transfer of military funds, the Pentagon diverted another $3.6 billion that an appeals court in New Orleans ruled in January could be spent.
The 9th Circuit ruled that the Trump administration not only lacked the authority to authorize the transfer of funds, “but also violated an express constitutional prohibition designed to protect individual liberties.”
The vote was 2-1 with judges appointed by former President Bill Clinton in the majority and a Trump nominee dissenting.
The panel said the government was proceeding with border wall construction without ensuring compliance with any environmental regulations, thereby harming the interests of Sierra Club members who visit the border region for hiking, bird watching and other recreational activities.
The panel also held that the government failed to show that construction would halt the flow of illegal drugs. It said the administration had cited drug statistics but didn’t address how the wall would have an impact on the problem.
“The executive branch’s failure to show, in concrete terms, that the public’s interest favors a border wall is particularly significant given that Congress determined fencing to be a lower budgetary priority and the Department of Justice’s data points to a contrary conclusion,” the majority wrote.
Connecticut is part of a 20-state coalition of attorneys general that sued the administration.
Attorney General William Tong released the following statement:
“The 9th Circuit got it right—Donald Trump ignored Congressional intent and unlawfully diverted billions of dollars in taxpayer funds intended for the Defense Department for a useless vanity project. The border wall was never more than a campaign slogan meant to rile up the most cruel and hateful of Trump’s xenophobic base. Today is a big win for the rule of law and separation of powers, but this fight is in no way over. We are ready, willing and able to defend our democratic principles before the Supreme Court.”
He told News 8 that for him, the battle is about Connecticut’s jobs, economy and national security.
“Connecticut, from coast to coast in our state, is heavily dependent on military spending, defense contracting, particularly in Eastern Connecticut. But also other parts of the state, Pratt and Whitney, Sikorsky [Aircraft] and, of course, electric boat and the Sub Base.”