House Sues Over Trump National Emergency Order

Floodlights from the U.S, illuminate multiple border walls on Jan. 7, 2019, seen from Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Calling the action an unprecedented power grab, the House of Representatives on Friday filed a federal lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency and shift money towards the construction of his long-promised wall along the southern border.

“Absent any applicable congressional appropriation, the expenditure of up to $8.1 billion to construct a border wall – and the transfer of appropriated funds from other sources to pay for the wall – violates the appropriations clause and the constitutional separation of powers,” the complaint states. “The United States House of Representatives brings this civil action for declaratory and injunctive relief to halt the defendants’ unconstitutional actions, which usurp the House’s Article I legislative powers.”

A House panel voted Thursday to authorize the lawsuit, which was filed Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C., federal court.

The 45-page complaint goes beyond simply challenging Trump’s authority to declare a national emergency, also taking issue with other steps Trump took to move money from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund and a Department of Defense fund for counter-drug operations.

Trump declared the emergency in February after signing a spending bill Congress passed that included $1.375 billion for border barriers. That number was far below Trump’s initial request that led to a month-long government shutdown that began at the end of last year.

Trump declared the emergency to tap into $3.6 billion from military construction accounts, while using other authority to access roughly $3.1 billion from other federal funds. All together, that gave Trump $8.1 billion to spend on the border wall.

The House’s lawsuit, which comes after a string of similar suits filed across the country, says Trump stretched the meaning of the word “emergency” when taking the action. The suit notes that in a speech announcing the declaration, Trump acknowledged he could have built the wall over a long period of time without declaring the emergency, but that he would “rather do it much faster.”

The central point of the lawsuit is that Trump’s actions violate the Constitution’s appropriations clause, which holds “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” The suit says the transfer of money violates separation of powers principles that underpin the constitutional system.

As for the emergency declaration, the House says the situation at the border does not qualify as an emergency that calls for the use of military forces, noting apprehensions at the border have been on a downturn in recent years and that most of the drugs that enter into the country from the southern border do so through official ports of entry.

The complaint also says Trump has not met the specific conditions outlined in federal law that would allow him to move the non-emergency funds into construction of the wall.

The suit seeks an injunction preventing the Trump administration from transferring any more money towards the construction of the wall and from using any of the funds it has already moved. The House did not name Trump as a defendant, instead suing the Treasury Department, Defense Department, Interior Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the officials who lead those agencies.

The House and Senate each passed a resolution to end Trump’s emergency declaration, but Trump quickly vetoed it. The House failed to override the veto last week.

In a statement Friday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the lawsuit is necessary to preserve Congress’ role in the constitutional structure.

“The Congress has a solemn responsibility to defend its exclusive constitutional responsibilities and protect our system of checks and balances,” Pelosi said. “The very integrity of our democratic institutions are at stake. We will not let the president trample over the Constitution.” 

The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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