Supreme Court allows border wall construction to continue

The court denied a request from the Sierra Club to halt construction on some sections of the wall that are being built with Pentagon money.
Image:
A construction crew works on a fallen section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall that landed on trees on the Mexican side of the border in Mexicali, from Calexico, California, on Jan. 29, 2020. The newly installed panels fell over in high winds Wednesday.AFP - Getty Images

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By Pete Williams

The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday declined to let lower court rulings go into effect that would stop the Trump administration from spending any more Pentagon money on the border wall.

The court denied a request from the Sierra Club, which had said that unless the justices acted, the government would be able to finish work on several sections of the wall even though federal courts have ruled that there's no legal authority for it.

Four of the justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, would have granted the request.

In May of 2019, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to put a hold on a ruling by a federal judge in California that blocked the use of $2.5 billion of Pentagon counter-drug program money to build more than 100 miles of border wall. The judge said that that only Congress could approve such a transfer.

The Supreme Court issued the stay after questioning whether the groups opposed to the wall had the proper legal status to challenge the transfer in court. A federal appeals court found the groups did have standing in a ruling last month.

The Sierra Club argued that if the temporary stay was allowed to remain in effect during a protracted court battle it would hand the Trump administration "a complete victory despite having lost in every court."

In his dissent, Breyer agreed. "The Court’s decision to let construction continue nevertheless, I fear, may operate, in effect, as a final judgment," he wrote.

About three-quarters of the 129 miles of fencing was completed as of earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.

"The Supreme Court reaffirmed today that it meant what it said a year ago: special interest groups likely lack any cause of action to sue the Department of Defense from transferring funds, and the Trump Administration should be allowed to build the wall and protect our country while litigation proceeds," the White House said in a statement. "Borders are a non-controversial reality of every sovereign nation, and we plan to defend ours."

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition in the case, said "the Supreme Court's temporary order does not decide the case."

"The administration has admitted that the wall can be taken down if we ultimately prevail, and we will hold them to their word and seek the removal of every mile of unlawful wall built,” said the attorney, Dror Ladin.

Dareh Gregorian contributed.