SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A federal appeals court on Friday convicted the Trump administration of transferring $ 2.5 billion from military construction projects to build parts of the U.S. border wall with Mexico, illegally judging Congress to allow decide how to use the funds.
In two opinions, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals for the Circuit agreed with a coalition of border states and environmental groups alleging that the money transfer was illegal and that building the wall would pose a threat to the environment.
The statements were the latest turn in the legal battle that has largely gone Trump’s way. Last July, the Supreme Court authorized the $ 2.5 billion to be spent while the lawsuit continued, mitigating the impact of the latest lawsuit on appeal.
The administration has already allocated much of the money, including a $ 1.3 billion job in Arizona announced last month. Trump visited Yuma, Arizona on Tuesday to mark the completion of the 200th mile of the boundary wall during his administration, largely with the transferred military assets that the 9th Circuit panel found illegal.
Following the $ 2.5 billion military transfer, the Pentagon diverted another $ 3.6 billion that an appeal court in New Orleans ruled could be issued in January.
Still, critics of Trump’s wall praised Friday’s statements for upholding the constitution, which gives Congress the power of the wallet.
“The funds he is stealing, which have been usurped by Congress, are vital to support the safety and well-being of the brave men and women in uniform and their families,” said home speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat .
The 9th circuit ruled that the Trump administration not only had the authority to authorize the transfer of funds, “it also violated an express constitutional prohibition designed to protect individual freedoms.”
The vote on both rulings was 2-1 with justices who had been in the majority by former President Bill Clinton and a nominee Trump disagreed.
The panel said the government will continue to build boundary walls without ensuring compliance with environmental laws, harming the interests of Sierra Club members visiting the border area for hiking, birdwatching and other recreational activities.
The panel also ruled that the government has not shown that construction would stop the flow of illicit drugs. It said the administration had quoted drug statistics, but did not discuss how the wall would have an impact on the problem.
“The fact that the executive does not demonstrate in concrete terms that the public interest favors a border wall is particularly significant, as Congress has determined that fencing is a lower budgetary priority and Justice Department data suggest otherwise.” , the majority wrote. .
The White House said the decisions do not interfere with its ability to continue building the wall, noting that the Supreme Court overturned many of the court’s rulings.
After the Supreme Court gave the green light last year to start working on the wall with money from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Justice promised to continue to defend the government’s efforts to protect the southern border.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a 20-state coalition of attorneys general who prosecuted the administration, praised the court’s decision.
“While the Trump administration is stealing public funds to build an unauthorized wall on the southern border, families across the country are struggling to pay their bills,” Becerra said. “They deserve to know that their hard-earned dollars go where Congress intended – to help them and their communities.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that if the Trump administration appeals, the case will go back to the Supreme Court, where ACLU will endeavor to tear down parts of the wall with the military money.
“The damage that has been done cannot be undone, but we will return to the Supreme Court to finally put an end to this destructive wall,” said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in the White House, Brian Melley in Los Angeles, and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
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