Courts block Trump administration plan to use military funds for border wall

The funding block comes as federal budget negotiations loom over Congress.

December 11, 2019, 8:44 PM

Two federal courts in two days have issued nationwide orders blocking the Trump administration's use of $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico, declaring that repurposing those funds would be "unlawful."

In one case, brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam ruled against the administration and indicated that the executive branch attempting to build the wall without Congressional approval was a notable factor in his decision.

"[The] border barrier projects [the Trump administration] now assert are 'necessary to support the use of the armed forces' are the very same projects [the administration] sought -- and failed -- to build under [Homeland Security's] civilian authority, because Congress would not appropriate the requested funds," Gilliam wrote in his ruling released Wednesday.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the administration would appeal the ruling, which she was said would unfairly block "multiple projects that are hundreds of miles away and have nothing to do with these plaintiffs."

"The Supreme Court," she added in a statement, "has already stayed one erroneous injunction blocking the use of a different statutory authority to build the border wall and the Administration plans to immediately appeal this incorrect decision, too."

Another decision came earlier this week after the government of El Paso County in Texas filed a lawsuit to stop the wall, arguing that the construction caused irreparable damage to their community. The ruling said the plaintiffs had indeed demonstrated "irreparable harm" and that the "balance of the equities and public interest weigh in their favor."

"It's a great victory for Congress's constitutional power of the purse, and a reminder that presidents are NOT kings," Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California said in a response on Twitter.

The court orders block funding planned for as much as 175 miles for an "emergency border wall system" in Texas, Arizona and California -- disrupting the administration's plans to complete 450 miles of new barriers by the end of 2020.

Since President Donald Trump took office, the administration has built just over 86 miles of new barriers. Most of that work has been renovating and replacing outdated designs, according to Customs and Border Protection.

PHOTO: US President Donald Trump (C) is shown border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump is shown border wall prototypes in San Diego, Calif., March 13, 2018.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Federal authorities have not completed any new barriers along empty stretches of border, but CBP officials said construction is underway in the Rio Grande Valley.

Last July, the Supreme Court handed Trump a big win on the issue by greenlighting $2.5 billion to be used for military counter-drug funding for the border wall temporarily -- a signal that it would ultimately side with the administration on the issue of shifting money around for what Trump says is a "national emergency."

The judge in the latest ruling -- District Court Judge David Briones with the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas -- insists that his decision doesn't conflict with the Supreme Court decision, because his case focused on military construction funds, not counterdrug money.

PHOTO: Construction site of the first border wall in Texas since President Trump took office as seen near Donna, Texas, Dec. 8, 2019.
Construction site of the first border wall in Texas since President Trump took office as seen near Donna, Texas, Dec. 8, 2019.
Veronica Cardenas/Reuters

"The president's emergency proclamation was a blatant attempt to grab power from Congress," said Kristy Parker, a lawyer for Protect Democracy, an advocacy group that provided legal representation in the case. "This is a huge win for democracy and the rule of law," Parker added.

With an appeal from government lawyers, the case likely goes to the Supreme Court -- a path where it could linger while lawmakers head into a new fight over government funding in the coming weeks.

ABC's Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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