A coalition of 16 states filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday challenging President Trump’s move to invoke emergency powers to redirect billions of dollars for construction of a border wall.
The 57-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks to block the president from moving forward with his plan, arguing that there is no emergency at the border and that Trump’s declaration violates the Constitution’s separation of powers and other federal statutes. The states brining the complaint — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia — are all led by Democratic governors, except for Maryland.
“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the suit. The states say they and their residents will be hurt by Trump’s diversion of federal funds.
The Trump administration said last week it intends to use $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund; about $2.5 billion from a military antidrug fund, though that money would first have to be pulled in from other, as-yet unidentified programs; and $3.6 billion in military construction funds that the president would use emergency powers to tap. That all is in addition to the $1.375 billion appropriated by Congress for border security.
The Justice Department has not commented on the lawsuit, but the president on Twitter described the lawsuit as being “led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left.” Trump initially tweeted that the lawsuit was brought by 16 cities before correcting the error.
This isn’t the only legal challenge to Trump’s emergency declaration: Two other cases had already been filed. The nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen sued Trump Friday in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of a few Texas landowners and an environmental group in the state. The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund jointly filed suit Saturday, also in D.C. And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and advocacy group, sued the Justice Department on Friday, saying it failed to provide documents detailing the legal basis for the president’s declaration of a national emergency. At least two other lawsuits are reportedly expected to be filed this week. But the challenge by the states is the “heavyweight” among the filings so far, The Washington Post says.
Congress is working on its own challenge to Trump: Lawmakers are likely to take up a “joint resolution of termination” to end Trump’s emergency declaration, though they may not have to votes to override a presidential veto. So a court challenge from Congress is also likely, and the Democratic-led House could bring a lawsuit of its own or support a lawsuit by a third party.
The outlook for the cases isn’t clear — and won’t just rest on the big constitutional question at hand: While Trump declaration is the first time a national emergency has been used to secure funding for a specific policy objective rejected by Congress, experts say the outcome in court “may turn less on such high constitutional principle and more on complex legal issues — from whether plaintiffs can establish that the case is properly before the courts, to how to interpret several statutes,” The New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Robert Pear report. “Further complicating matters, the administration has said it intends to spend the funds in sequence, starting with the $1.375 billion Congress appropriated, and reaching the emergency-power military-construction fund last. The Justice Department is likely to argue that if no disputed spending is imminent, the case is not ripe for litigation and should be dismissed.”