Democrats fail to block plan for funding wall

US judge says he lacks jurisdiction to consider dispute over reallocation of $8.4b sought by Trump

WASHINGTON • House Democrats failed to block US President Donald Trump's plan to fund his southern border wall with about US$6.1 billion (S$8.4 billion) which Congress had allocated for other purposes.

US District Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in Washington on Monday that he lacks jurisdiction to consider the dispute.

Judge McFadden, a Trump appointee, had expressed wariness of the lawmakers' arguments at a May 23 hearing. "This is a case about whether one Chamber of Congress has the 'constitutional means' to conscript the judiciary in a political turf war with the President" on the implementation of legislation, he wrote on Monday.

Agreeing with a Justice Department lawyer's defence of the administration, the judge concluded that he could not get involved in the fight. "While the Constitution bestows upon members of the House many powers, it does not grant them standing to haul the executive branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress' legislative authority," Judge McFadden wrote.

The 24-page ruling and accompanying order disposing of the case can be immediately appealed against.

Mr Hakeem Jeffries, the New York congressman who chairs the Democratic caucus, said House leaders had not yet been briefed on the outcome. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House is reviewing its options, including whether to appeal.

The Justice Department lauded the ruling. "The House of Representatives cannot ask the judiciary to take its side in political disputes and cannot use federal courts to accomplish through litigation what it cannot achieve using the tools the Constitution gives to Congress," according to a Justice Department statement.

The ruling snaps a string of decisions against the President. They include two federal court decisions enabling congressional committees to look into his business records and a California federal judge's order blocking construction of some parts of the border wall.

A coalition of 20 states and conservation groups has asked that same judge to consider an expanded prohibition on wall construction using reallocated funds. A hearing is scheduled for today.

The lawmakers filed suit on April 5, contending that the President had effectively done an end run around their denial of his request for more than US$5.7 billion to construct his long-sought barrier.

After a record 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government, Congress appropriated US$1.4 billion for wall construction. The President signed that legislation, then declared a national emergency that he said empowered him to tap other funds.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2019, with the headline 'Democrats fail to block plan for funding wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe