Donald Trump’s dream of building a “big, beautiful wall” along the southern border took a hit yesterday when a federal judge ruled that Pentagon funds totaling $3.6 billion diverted for 11 construction projects along the southern border could not be used for wall construction.
Significantly, the judge, David Briones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, ruled that other funds, already approved by the Supreme Court, could be spent. Those funds, which come from a Pentagon counter-narcotics fund, could still be used for wall construction.
The argument being used by the city of El Paso was that Trump overstepped his authority in declaring a national emergency along the border. Briones agreed and issued a permanent injunction against the use of the funds.
Opponents of the wall cheered the ruling.
“The President’s emergency proclamation was a blatant attempt to grab power from Congress. Today’s order affirms that the President is not a king and that our courts are willing to check him when he oversteps his bounds,” said Kristy Parker, counsel for Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit which represented the plaintiffs, in a statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tied the ruling to others blocking the executive branch from going around Congress.
“Once again, the courts have resoundingly ruled against the President’s attempt to negate our system of separation of powers, which is the genius of our Constitution, by assaulting Congress’s exclusive constitutional power of the purse,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Despite what the President may think, Article II does not mean that he can ‘do whatever he wants.'”
The ruling is worrisome for Trump from a legal standpoint because it’s apparent that the federal judiciary is taking a dim view of the president’s emergency declaration, finding the administration’s arguments in favor of it lacking.
And El Paso has more than enough standing to pass any legal test.
The county also argued that it would suffer reputational and economic harm from the border wall project because the president’s emergency declaration created the impression that the border city was dangerous. In October, Briones, a Clinton appointee, ruled that such claims had merit.
This doesn’t bode well for Trump’s prospects in the Supreme Court.
The last two presidents have attempted on numerous occasions to skirt Congress’s authority and responsibility, claiming that Congress won’t act. That’s sort of the point. First Obama and now Trump have tried to use their executive authority in ways that were never intended by the framers.
Government by decree doesn’t work in America — or, at least, it shouldn’t. Both presidents refused to try and work with Congress on issues of vital national concern, whittling away at the power of Congress while aggregating more power to the executive.
It’s significant that both presidents suffered stinging defeats by the federal judiciary as both liberal and conservative judges have put up a stop sign to prevent executive encroachment on congressional prerogatives.