Federal Judge Rules Against Trump Border Emergency Declaration

President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he tours a section of the southern border wall in Otay Mesa, Calif., on Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) – A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to speed up construction of his long-promised border wall is unlawful.

In his 33-page ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones in El Paso indicated he would issue an injunction blocking at least part of the administration’s plan to divert military funding toward border wall construction.

But Briones, a Bill Clinton appointee, said a decision on how broad such an injunction could be will come later, after the court hears further briefing on the issue.

“It’s good news,” said Stuart Gerson, one of the lead attorneys for El Paso County and the advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights.

The entities had sued the Trump administration over the declaration, arguing in part that it brought economic and reputational harm to this corner of borderlands West Texas.

“This is a win for our side,” Gerson said.

He added the plaintiffs would push for a nationwide injunction.

In Friday’s ruling, the judge found that the Trump administration’s move to divert more than $6 billion in Department of Defense funding originally meant for military construction projects and counterdrug activities violates the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“The CAA specifically appropriates $1.375 billion for border-wall expenditures and requires those expenditures to be made on ‘construction. . . in the Rio Grande Valley Sector’ alone,” Briones wrote. “[The government’s] plan therefore flouts the cardinal principle that a specific statute controls a general one and violates the CAA.”

Attorneys for the county and the advocacy group had argued the emergency declaration harmed the El Paso region by portraying it in a negative light and hindering tourism and business opportunities.

Briones agreed with that assessment in finding that plaintiffs had standing to sue.

“The longer the president’s proclamation remains in effect, the more El Paso County’s reputation will be tarnished in the eyes of tourists and developers, and the more hours El Paso County officials will have to devote to combating negative messaging,” he wrote. “Moreover, defendants will divert $20 million away from a planned military construction project at Fort Bliss in El Paso County, and one of the new wall projects will take place in southern New Mexico, in El Paso County’s close vicinity.”

Government attorneys had previously urged Briones to not wade into whether the president was justified in declaring the border emergency.

“Congress precluded judicial review” of such declarations, Justice Department attorney James Burnham said at a hearing in El Paso in August.

A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s ruling.

Other lawsuits targeting the administration’s border wall plans continue to play out across the U.S.

In July, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to continue with its wall spending plans while separate litigation plays out and the ultimate question of the president’s power to issue such a declaration winds its way up to the high court.

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