Two-and-a-half years into his presidency, it's looking increasingly likely that the morass of lawsuits and investigations intended to stymie President Trump and his administration's agenda will be remembered as one of the president's defining legacies. In this regard, few antagonists have been more effective than a cabal of San Francisco-based judges, most of whom were appointed by President Obama.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that one of these judges - US District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam, appointed to the bench by Obama in 2014 - sided with the ACLU, Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition on Friday and ruled that two border-wall related construction projects shouldn't be allowed to proceed. This, despite the fact that even Trump's fiercest opponents in Congress have acknowledged that the crisis at the border is very, very real.
Gilliam ruled that Trump's plan to divert Pentagon funds was unconstitutional because it was tantamount to an end-run around Congress, Fox News reports.
"In short, the position that when Congress declines the Executive’s request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds "without Congress" does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic," wrote Gilliam, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama.
The move was a workaround Congress, which had not given in to his demands to fund the barrier. The wall has been Trump's signature promise. Gilliam's ruling doesn't prevent the Trump administration from using other sources to fund the wall.
He said Trump's plan to divert Pentagon funds for border-wall construction was unconstitutional because the argument White House relied on applied to unforeseen needs, Politico reported.
"Defendants' argument that the need for the requested border barrier construction funding was 'unforeseen' cannot logically be squared with the Administration's multiple requests for funding for exactly that purpose dating back to at least early 2018," the Obama nominee wrote.
The Pentagon diverted $1 billion to border-wall related accounts in March, and another $1.5 billion this month.
Since the earliest days of Trump's presidency, judges from the District Court for the Northern District of California or the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have blocked immigration-related policies including Trump's travel ban (eventually upheld by the Supreme Court) and the 'Remain in Mexico' policy of releasing asylum seekers to Mexico to await their court hearings, instead of allowing them to roam free inside the US (a court battle is still being waged and the fate of this policy has not yet been decided). The Ninth Circuit also mostly rejected the DoJ's lawsuit challenging California's 'Sanctuary State' policies.
Trump's national emergency declaration, made in February after the end of a 35-day partial government shutdown, elicited lawsuits from 20 states, including California, a slew of environmental groups and civil liberties groups. Congress also tried to terminate the order before Trump could start appropriating money for the wall, prompting Trump's first presidential veto. In his declaration, Trump tried to appropriate roughly $8 billion in DoD and Treasury Department money.
Gilliam's order applies to two projects which had been scheduled to begin as early as Saturday. Some of the DoD money was going to be used to replace 51 miles of fence in two areas along the Mexican border.
Though the fate of Trump's border wall remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: As the administration continues its fight to move ahead with other border wall related projects, more unfavorable rulings are likely.