Trump wins legal battle in war of the wall
The US Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Trump administration to use billions of dollars in Pentagon funds to build sections of a border wall with Mexico.
The Supreme Court ruled by five votes to four to block a ruling by a federal judge in California that barred the president from spending the money on the wall. The court's five conservative justices gave the administration the green light to begin work on four contracts it had awarded using defence department money. Funding for the projects had been frozen by lower courts while the lawsuit over the money proceeded.
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The justices' decision to lift the freeze on the money allows Donald Trump to make progress on a major 2016 campaign promise heading into his race for a second term.
Trump tweeted after the announcement: "Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall. The US Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!"
The Supreme Court's action reverses the decision of a trial court, which froze the funds in May, and an appeals court, which kept that freeze in place earlier this month.
The freeze had prevented the government from tapping approximately US$2.5bn in defence department money to replace existing sections of barrier in Arizona, California and New Mexico with more robust fencing. The case began after the 35-day partial government shutdown that started in December last year.
Trump ended the shutdown in February after Congress gave him approximately $1.4bn in border wall funding. But the amount was far less than the $5.7bn he was seeking, and Trump then declared a national emergency to take cash from other government accounts to use to construct sections of the wall.
The money Trump identified includes $3.6bn from military construction funds, $2.5bn in defence department money and$600m from the Treasury department's asset forfeiture fund. The case before the Supreme Court involved just the $2.5bn in defence department funds, which the administration says will be used to construct more than 160km of fencing.
One project would replace 80km of barrier in New Mexico for $789m. Another would replace 100km in Arizona for $646m. The other two projects in California and Arizona are smaller. The other funds were not at issue.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. ACLU lawyers said in a statement that the fight "is not over".
The case will continue, but the Supreme Court's decision suggests an ultimate victory for the ACLU is unlikely. Even if the ACLU were to win, fencing will already have been built.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The Supreme Court ruling allowing Donald Trump to steal military funds to spend on a wasteful, ineffective border wall rejected by Congress is deeply flawed. Our founders designed a democracy governed by the people - not a monarchy."
Last Friday, the US and Guatemala also signed a deal, under which migrants from Honduras and El Salvador who pass through Guatemala will be required to stop and seek asylum there first, rather than heading for the US.