Supreme Court: Trump can use Pentagon funds for border wall | TribLIVE.com
Politics Election

Supreme Court: Trump can use Pentagon funds for border wall

Associated Press
1466862_web1_1466862-8ec06b4305c240028da0f7170097d023
FILE - In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Trump administration to tap Pentagon funds to build sections of a border wall with Mexico. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
1466862_web1_1466862-cdd5370717e545a5adc67c1e4f35dc94
United States Border Patrol officers return a group of migrants back to the Mexico side of the border as Mexican immigration officials check the list, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Thursday, July 25, 2019. Mexico has received some 20,000 asylum seekers returned to await U.S. immigration court dates under the program colloquially known as “remain in Mexico.” (AP Photo/Salvador Gonzalez)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way Friday for the Trump administration to tap billions of dollars in Pentagon funds to build sections of a border wall with Mexico.

The court’s five conservative justices gave the administration the greenlight to begin work on four contracts it has awarded using Defense Department money. Funding for the projects had been frozen by lower courts while a lawsuit over the money proceeded. The court’s four liberal justices wouldn’t have allowed construction to start.

The justices’ decision to lift the freeze on the money allows President Donald Trump to make progress on a major 2016 campaign promise heading into his race for a second term. Trump tweeted after the announcement: “Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall. The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!”

The Supreme Court’s action reverses the decision of a trial court, which initially froze the funds in May, and an appeals court, which kept that freeze in place earlier this month. The freeze had prevented the government from tapping approximately $2.5 billion in Defense Department money to replace existing sections of barrier in Arizona, California and New Mexico with more robust fencing.

The case the Supreme Court ruled in began after the 35-day partial government shutdown that started in December of last year. Trump ended the shutdown in February after Congress gave him approximately $1.4 billion in border wall funding. But the amount was far less than the $5.7 billion he was seeking, and Trump then declared a national emergency to take cash from other government accounts to use to construct sections of wall.

The money Trump identified includes $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion in Defense Department money and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.

The case before the Supreme Court involved just the $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds, which the administration says will be used to construct more than 100 miles of fencing. One project would replace 46 miles of barrier in New Mexico for $789 million. Another would replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in Arizona for $646 million. The other two projects in California and Arizona are smaller.

The other funds were not at issue in the case. The Treasury Department funds have so far survived legal challenges, and Customs and Border Protection has earmarked the money for work in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley but has not yet awarded contracts. Transfer of the $3.6 billion in military construction funds is awaiting approval from the defense secretary.

The lawsuit at the Supreme Court was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. The justices who lifted the freeze on the money did not give a lengthy explanation for their decision. But they said among the reasons they were doing so was that the government had made a “sufficient showing at this stage” that those bringing the lawsuit don’t have a right to challenge the decision to use the money.

Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that the lower courts should not have halted construction of walls on the southern border. We will continue to vigorously defend the Administration’s efforts to protect our Nation.”

ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin said after the court’s announcement that the fight “is not over.” The case will continue, but the Supreme Court’s decision suggests an ultimate victory for the ACLU is unlikely. Even if the ACLU were to win, fencing will have already been built.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Friday night accusing Trump of trying to “undermine our military readiness and steal from our men and women in uniform to waste billions on a wasteful, ineffective wall that Congress on a bipartisan basis has repeatedly refused to fund.” She said the Supreme Court’s decision “undermines the Constitution and the law.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the decision “deeply regrettable and nonsensical.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would not have allowed construction to begin. Justice Stephen Breyer said he would have allowed the government to finalize the contracts for the segments but not begin construction while the lawsuit proceeded. The administration had argued that if it wasn’t able to finalize the contracts by Sept. 30, then it would lose the ability to use the funds. The administration had asked for a decision quickly.

The Supreme Court is on break for the summer but does act on certain pressing items.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.