Judge Tosses House Lawsuit Over Border Wall Spending
WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington on Monday threw out the House’s lawsuit against the Trump administration over funds to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the courts were not the place to settle this dispute over congressional appropriations power.
The Democrat-led House filed the lawsuit challenging parts of the administration plan to spend up to $8.1 billion for construction of southern border barriers, arguing that Congress had turned aside President Donald Trump’s request for $5 billion and instead appropriated $1.375 billion.
The House argued that the spending would violate the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution and usurp Congress’ authority, while the Justice Department called it a case about whether the administration is not appropriately executing a statute.
U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden didn’t get that far. He said the Trump administration correctly argued that the Constitution does not give the House the right to “conscript the Judiciary in a political turf war with the President over the implementation of legislation.”
Judicial independence requires that courts take no part in resolving political fights between other branches, McFadden wrote in a 24-page ruling that denied the House request for a preliminary injunction to stop the administration plan to move money for the barrier construction under other laws.
“And while the Constitution bestows upon Members of the House many powers, it does not grant them standing to hale the Executive Branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress’s legislative authority,” McFadden wrote.
His ruling called it a “close question,” but said there was a lack of prior decisions on the House’s right to sue the executive branch and the court “cannot assume jurisdiction to proceed to the merits.”
McFadden concluded that the House “retains the institutional tools necessary to remedy any harm caused to this power by the Administration’s actions.”
To that point, the judge pointed to congressional power to override a president’s veto of a resolution voiding the National Emergency Declaration, amend appropriations laws to expressly restrict the transfer or spending of funds for a border wall and hold hearings on the president’s spending decisions.
The House case is one of several challenging the administration plan, but it highlights the hurdles facing lawmakers who want to stop the actions through the courts. During a hearing on the injunction request last month, McFadden expressed skepticism about whether the federal courts should jump into the middle of an “ugly dispute between the political branches.”
The Justice Department had argued that the Constitution doesn’t hint at litigation between the branches because it gave them other ways to resolve disputes.
Congress gave the administration the authority to transfer money in two laws last fall — the fiscal 2019 defense authorization and Defense spending bills — and lawmakers could have restricted that authority then if they wanted, a DOJ lawyer argued.
A Justice Department spokesman said Monday that the judge had “rightly ruled that the House of Representatives cannot ask the judiciary to take its side in political disputes and cannot use federal courts to accomplish through litigation what it cannot achieve using the tools the Constitution gives to Congress.”
A federal judge in California temporarily blocked portions of the administration spending plan for the border barrier.
©2019 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
WASHINGTON - The White House violated federal law in withholding security assistance to Ukraine, one of the actions that set the stage for President Donald Trump's impending impeachment trial in the Senate, a nonpartisan federal watchdog said Thursday. In a long-awaited report released mere moments before... Read More
WASHINGTON - Environmentalists won an appeals court ruling in Washington, D.C. last week protecting ocean marine national monuments. Marine national monuments refer to offshore underwater areas intended to protect coral reefs or wildlife. There are five of them in U.S. territorial waters. The U.S. Court of... Read More
WASHINGTON - The families of 143 U.S. soldiers and government contractors sued a group of multinational corporations last week in Washington, D.C. accusing them of indirectly funding the Taliban insurgents who killed and injured their relatives. In the complaint, filed in Washington, the plaintiff families claim... Read More
DETROIT — Becoming a lawyer in Michigan after a felony conviction is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Tenisha Yancey did it, before she was elected to the state House, even though law school admissions officials warned that she probably wouldn’t pass an evaluation that judged her... Read More
Any day now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans could rule the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. At least it seemed that two of the three appeals court judges were leaning that way during oral arguments in the case, State of Texas v.... Read More
ATLANTA — Judges on the federal appeals court in Atlanta on Thursday peppered lawyers with questions in a case that could set an important precedent for bathroom access by transgender high school students. Two judges, both members of the more liberal wing of the 11th U.S.... Read More