Judge Blocks Border Wall Sections 05/25 10:59
A federal judge on Friday blocked President Donald Trump from building key
sections of his border wall with money secured under his declaration of a
national emergency, delivering what may prove a temporary setback on one of his
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal judge on Friday blocked President Donald
Trump from building key sections of his border wall with money secured under
his declaration of a national emergency, delivering what may prove a temporary
setback on one of his highest priorities.
U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr.'s order prevents work from beginning
on two of the highest-priority, Pentagon-funded wall projects --- one spanning
46 miles (74 kilometers) in New Mexico and another covering 5 miles (8
kilometers) in Yuma, Arizona.
While the order applied only to those first-in-line projects, the judge made
clear that he felt the challengers were likely to prevail at trial on their
argument that the president was wrongly ignoring Congress' wishes by diverting
Defense Department money.
"Congress's 'absolute' control over federal expenditures_even when that
control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives
it views as important_is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a
feature of that system, and an essential one," he wrote in his 56-page opinion.
It wasn't a total defeat for the administration. Gilliam, an Oakland-based
appointee of President Barack Obama, rejected a request by California and 19
other states to prevent the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars in
Treasury asset forfeiture funds to wall construction, in part because he felt
they were unlikely to prevail on arguments that the administration skirted
environmental impact reviews.
The delay may be temporary. The question for Gilliam was whether to allow
construction with Defense and Treasury funds while the lawsuits brought by the
American Civil Liberties Union and the state attorneys general were being
considered. The cases still must be heard on their merits.
"This order is a win for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law,
and border communities," said Dror Ladin, an attorney for the ACLU, which
represented the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment
The administration faces several lawsuits over the emergency declaration but
only one other seeks to block construction during the legal challenge. A judge
in Washington, D.C., on Thursday heard arguments on a challenge brought by the
U.S. House of Representatives that says the money shifting violates the
constitution. The judge was weighing whether the lawmakers even had the ability
to sue the president instead of working through political routes to resolve the
At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make progress in a
signature campaign promise heading into his campaign for a second term.
Trump declared a national emergency in February after losing a fight with
the Democratic-led House that led to a 35-day government shutdown. As a
compromise on border and immigration enforcement, Congress set aside $1.375
billion to extend or replace existing barriers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the
busiest corridor for illegal crossings.
Trump grudgingly accepted the money, but then declared the national
emergency to siphon money from other government accounts, identifying up to
$8.1 billion for wall construction. The funds include $3.6 billion from
military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counterdrug
activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset forfeiture
The Defense Department has already transferred the counterdrug money.
Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, is expected to decide any day
whether to transfer the military construction funds.
The president's adversaries say the emergency declaration was an illegal
attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized far less wall spending than Trump
wanted. The administration said Trump was protecting national security as
unprecedented numbers of Central American asylum-seeking families arrive at the
The administration has awarded 11 wall contracts for a combined $2.76
billion --- including three in the last two months that draw on Defense
Department counterdrug money --- and is preparing for a flurry of construction
that the president is already celebrating at campaign-style rallies.
The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several large contacts with
Pentagon funding. Last month, SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won a $789
million award to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico ---
the one that Gilliam blocked on Friday.
Last week, Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a
$646 million award to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Border Patrol's
Tucson, Arizona, sector, which Gilliam did not stop. Barnard Construction Co.
of Bozeman, Montana, won a $141.8 million contract to replace 5 miles (8
kilometers) in Yuma that Gilliam blocked and 15 miles (24 kilometers) in El
Centro, California, which he did not address.
Gilliam's ruling gives a green light --- at least for now --- for the
administration to tap the Treasury funds, which it has said it plans to use to
extend barriers in Rio Grande Valley.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and frequent Trump
adversary, didn't comment directly on his defeat but congratulated the ACLU and
its clients "in securing this critical victory for our states and communities."
Trump inherited barriers covering 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or about
one-third of the border with Mexico. Of the 244 miles (390 kilometers) in
awarded contracts, more than half is with Pentagon money. All but 14 miles (22
kilometers) awarded so far are to replace existing barriers, not extend