(CN) — President Donald Trump was within his constitutional authority to declare a national emergency at the southern border last year, a federal judge ruled Thursday, but environmental groups can move forward on a central challenge in their lawsuit: whether the president can divert $3.6 billion in military funds to build a border wall.
The environmental groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity and the Rio Grande International Study Center, each filed lawsuits arguing Trump abused his authority by reallocating money from military construction accounts to fund a southern border wall without congressional approval.
Trump’s decision to divert funds from the Pentagon came after a 35-day government shutdown, the longest in history, which ended in Congress approving far less money than the president requested for his most talked-about campaign promise – a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In allowing the environmental groups to proceed with their cut-back challenge, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden ruled the Trump administration’s border wall funding arrangement violated the 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the budget passed by Congress allocating money for construction of a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.
But McFadden, a Trump appointee, dismissed their claims alleging the president’s actions were unconstitutional, and their challenge to the president’s emergency declaration that he used to secure border wall funding under the guise of stopping drug trafficking into the U.S.
“These policy decisions are for the political, not judicial, branches to resolve,” McFadden wrote in his 59-page opinion. The judge also dismissed Trump as a defendant in the litigation since his presence isn’t necessary for the environmental groups to obtain relief against agency officials.
“The heart of this important case remains, which is that Trump ran roughshod over Congress to get money for his destructive border wall,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The administration completely overstepped its authority by declaring a so-called ‘emergency’ so it could steal money from the military to create this environmental and humanitarian disaster. We’re pleased the court agrees that this case should move forward,” he said.