Supreme Court allows Trump to spend $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds on border wall

In a big win for President Trump, the Supreme Court has blocked a ruling by a California judge that would have prevented the president from spending $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds to build a wall along the country’s southern border.

The court’s 5-4 ruling fully reversed a California district judge’s decision last month forbidding the president from redirecting the Congress-approved funds because the legislature hadn’t specifically authorized the money to be spent on Trump’s long-touted construction project.

The freeze had prevented the government from tapping approximately $2.5 billion in Defense Department money to replace existing sections of barrier in the states of Arizona, California and New Mexico with more robust fencing.

The SCOTUS decision is a major victory for Trump, who has seen his political opponents in the Democratic Party attempt to block the border wall’s construction at every turn. The controversial barrier was at the center of a political standoff that saw a large chunk of the government shut down for over a month at the beginning of the year, and his efforts to declare a “national emergency” in order to free up some of the Pentagon’s cash have also been stonewalled – until now.

In addition to the $2.5 billion, which will be reappropriated from Defense Department counternarcotics activities, Trump has also targeted $3.6 billion in military construction funds and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund to cover the cost of the barrier Congress has refused to fund.

The lawsuit at the Supreme Court was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. The challengers said the wall would be disruptive to the environment in part because it could worsen flooding problems and have a negative impact on wildlife.

The five justices who lifted the freeze on the money did not give a lengthy explanation for their decision.

But they said among the reasons they were doing so was that the government had made a “sufficient showing at this stage” that those bringing the lawsuit did not have a right to challenge the decision to use the money.

The four liberal justices dissented, with Justice Stephen Breyer saying he would have allowed the government to finalise the contracts for the segments but not begin construction while the lawsuit proceeded.

“Today’s decision to permit the diversion of military funds for border wall construction will wall off and destroy communities, public lands, and waters in California, New Mexico, and Arizona,” said Gloria Smith, an attorney with the Sierra Club.

Trump had originally requested $5.7 billion from the Congress for his border wall, but after a tug-of-war that included a record 35-day federal government shutdown, he reluctantly signed a spending bill that included appropriations of just $1.4 billion for border barriers, and not specifically a wall.

Then on February 15, citing an “invasion” of drugs and criminals, he declared a national emergency at the border, allowing him to repurpose billions of dollars in other government funding. The $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds at play in the Supreme Court ruling were part of that repurposed money.

Democrats said Trump’s action exceeded his powers under the US Constitution and usurped the authority of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement on Friday night accusing Trump of trying to “undermine our military readiness and steal from our men and women in uniform to waste billions on a wasteful, ineffective wall that Congress on a bipartisan basis has repeatedly refused to fund”.

The Supreme Court victory was the second piece of good news for Trump, who earlier on Friday announced that a “landmark” asylum agreement had been reached with Guatemala, which Trump claimed would classify the Central American nation as a “safe third country”, meaning that US-bound migrants who entered the country would be required to seek asylum there instead.