Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Evening Edition

Appeals Court: Trump Wrongly Diverted $2.5B For Border Wall

President Donald Trump tours a section of the southern border wall, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Otay Mesa, Calif.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump tours a section of the southern border wall, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Otay Mesa, Calif.

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 latest twist in the legal battle that has largely gone Trump’s way came after the Supreme Court previously 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, this week to mark the 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 panel 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 also held that the government failed to show that the border wall construction would halt the flow of illegal drugs. It said the administration had cited drug statistics but didn't address how.

“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.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a 20-state coalition of attorneys general which sued the administration, praised the decision.

“Today, the court reminded the president — once again — that no one is above the law,” he said in a statement. “While the Trump administration steals public funds to build an unauthorized wall at the southern border, families across the country are struggling to pay their bills. They deserve to know that their hard-earned dollars are going where Congress intended — to benefit them and their communities.”

The reallocated money funded a section of border wall that’s currently under construction in the Otay Mountain Wilderness. It’s the first new section of border wall in San Diego county in decades.

"We will continue this fight, even if it’s built," said Vicki Gaubeca, the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the construction. "Our next step will be to push for it to be torn down and for the parts of the border and our border communities to be restored, especially in areas where there has been a lot environmental damage already."

Appeals Court: Trump Wrongly Diverted $2.5B For Border Wall
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Corrected:
Associated Press writers Brian Melley in Los Angeles and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.