WASHINGTON — A coalition of 16 Democratic-controlled states, including California and New York, on Monday challenged President Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on his border wall.
The lawsuit is part of a constitutional confrontation that Trump set off on Friday when he declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him. The clash raises questions over congressional control of spending, the scope of emergency powers granted to the president, and how far the courts are willing to go to settle such a dispute.
The suit, filed in US District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending.
Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, said in an interview that the president himself had undercut his argument that there was an emergency in the border.
“Probably the best evidence is the president’s own words,” he said, referring to Trump’s speech on Feb. 15 announcing his plan: “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
The lawsuit, California et al. v. Trump et al., says that the plaintiff states are going to court to protect their residents, natural resources, and economic interests. “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” the lawsuit says.
Joining California in filing the lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. Massachusetts is not among the plaintiffs.
Congress is on its own separate track to challenge the president’s declaration. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives may take a two-prong approach when it returns from a recess. One would be to bring a lawsuit of its own.
Lawmakers could also vote to override the declaration that an emergency exists, but it is doubtful that Congress has the votes to override Trump’s certain veto, leaving the courts a more likely venue.
The dispute stems from steps Trump said he would take after lawmakers granted him only $1.375 billion for new border barriers, legislation he signed last week to avoid another government shutdown.
Trump asserted the power to tap three additional pots of money on his own: $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund for law enforcement priorities; about $2.5 billion from a military antidrug account, most of which would be siphoned from other military programs the Pentagon largely has yet to identify; and $3.6 billion in military construction funds.
Two cases had already been filed after Trump’s announcement on Feb. 15 — one by the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen, representing several Texas landowners and a Texas environmental group, and the other a case jointly brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
At least two other lawsuits are expected to be filed. The American Civil Liberties Union said it intends to file. The other case will be brought by Protect Democracy, another watchdog group, and the Niskanen Center, a policy institute, on behalf of El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights.Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.