House Democrats lose bid to block Trump's wall-funding plan

A border fence between the US and Mexico seen on June 1, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
A border fence between the US and Mexico seen on June 1, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - House Democrats failed to block President Donald Trump's plan to fund his southern US border wall with about US$6.1 billion (S$8.3 billion) Congress had allocated for other purposes.

US District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington ruled on Monday (June 3) that he lacks jurisdiction to consider the dispute.

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" about the implementation of legislation, McFadden wrote on Monday.

Agreeing with a Justice Department lawyer's defence of the administration, the judge concluded he couldn't 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's legislative authority," McFadden wrote.

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

The lawmakers filed suit on April 5, contending 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 along the US-Mexico border. 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 he said empowered him to tap other funds.

"We cannot have the president appropriating money," House lawyer Douglas Letter told McFadden during the nearly three-hour hearing last month.

That power, he said, is reserved to Congress under the Constitution and goes to "the very heart" of its system of checks and balances.

Justice Department lawyer James Burnham countered that the Constitution made no provision for one branch of the federal government to sue another in a fight refereed by the third.