A divided Supreme Court late Friday backed the Trump administration’s push to reshuffle up to $2.5 billion to build 100 miles of border barriers, a decision that allows the government to act ahead of a congressional spending fight that it said might have foiled those plans.
The high court ruling lifts a lower court injunction that prevented the government from spending the money —which was transferred into a Defense Department account earlier this year — to contract and build the barriers before fiscal 2019 spending law lapses on Sept. 30.
The Supreme Court majority, in a one-sentence description of its reasoning, wrote that the environmental groups challenging the reprogramming did not demonstrate that they had the legal right to challenge whether the government had complied with the law about such funding transfers.
The five conservative justices gave the government the backing it needed. Three liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, would have denied the government’s petition but did not write to say why.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote separately to say he would have partially lifted the injunction so that the government could continue contracting, but not build on lands the environmental groups say would be irreparably harmed.
President Donald Trump previously announced he would shift around existing funds for the wall after lawmakers turned down his full $5.7 billion request for construction funds in a spending showdown last winter that resulted in the longest partial government shutdown to date.
“Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall,” Trump tweeted Friday. “The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!”
Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall. The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2019
A federal district court had blocked that effort amid a legal challenge about whether the administration has the authority to shift funds.
In its request to the Supreme Court to lift that injunction, the Trump administration contended that the Defense Department says “the remaining unobligated funds will become unavailable” after Sept. 30, and it “will be unable to complete the projects as planned.”
The House filed a brief in the case in which it argued that the Trump administration “will still have the funds it seeks after Sept. 30 if Congress — the only body that can decide how federal funds should be spent — decides that public money should be spent as the Administration wishes.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition in the case, said it will continue to fight the transfer and it will now go back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for a decision on the merits.
“We will be asking the federal appeals court to expedite the ongoing appeals proceeding to halt the irreversible and imminent damage from Trump’s border wall,” Dror Ladin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.
“Border communities, the environment, and our Constitution’s separation of powers will be permanently harmed should Trump get away with pillaging military funds for a xenophobic border wall Congress denied,” Ladin said.