A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the Trump administration in its transfer of USD 2.5 billion from military construction projects to build sections of the US border wall with Mexico, ruling it illegally sidestepped Congress, which gets to decide how to use the funds.
The 9th US 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 USD 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 USD 1.3-billion job in Arizona that was announced last month. Trump visited Yuma, Arizona, this week to mark 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 USD 2.5-billion transfer of military funds, the Pentagon diverted another USD 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 favours 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.