On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling with major implications for the southern border, and, perhaps, for the balance of power in Washington. In an unsigned order, the court agreed to lift a lower-court ruling that had prohibited the president from using $2.5 billion in defense funds to help build a border wall.
The money was originally earmarked for military personnel funds, but the Department of Defense redirected it to counter-narcotics projects, which included building the wall. Five of the justices agreed with the Trump administration’s assertion that the money was needed to “to stanch the flow of illegal narcotics across the southern border.”
The decision lifts the stay imposed by the lower court, but doesn’t settle the underlying case brought by the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which claims the president can’t spend money Congress already refused to allocate for border security. That case must still wend its way through the courts.
Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs contributor at Politico, says though the order did not include an opinion or further detail, there’s evidence that the court’s majority doesn’t believe the entities that filed suit are able to question the administration’s decision to divert the funds.
“Can any person who feels aggrieved by that go in and say, ‘Money’s being spent on an improper purpose?’ And it seem like the justices, while not issuing a full ruling, seem to feel like that budget rider is not something that community groups or environmental groups are supposed to enforce,” Gerstein says.
Gerstein says 20 states and the U.S. House of Representatives are also suing to block the administration’s planned border-wall spending. Those suits remain active.
Gerstein says he believes the $2.5 billion is currently designated for projects in California, Arizona and New Mexico. An additional $1.3 billion was previously appropriated for projects in Southeast Texas.
“This was part of a broader $8 billion plan that the president came up with to basically shake the piggy bank of the federal government, and try to find money that Congress maybe hadn’t explicitly appropriated for border-wall projects,” Gerstein says. “So there’s still another $5.5 billion to $6 billion in some dispute.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.