The Slatest

Federal Judge Rules Congress Cannot Sue President Over Inventive Border Wall Funding

President Trump tours the border wall between the United States and Mexico in Calexico, California, April 5, 2019.
President Donald Trump tours the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in Calexico, California, on April 5.
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Monday that House Democrats cannot sue President Donald Trump over the White House’s use of funds appropriated to the Pentagon to pay for a wall on the Mexican border. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump nominee, did not rule on the merits of the case, instead denying House Democrats’ motion to stay Trump’s wall funding because they lacked standing to sue the executive branch. “While the Constitution bestows upon Members of the House many powers, it does not grant them standing to hale the Executive Branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress’s legislative authority,” McFadden wrote. “The Court therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear the House’s claims and will deny its motion.”

The suit brought against the Trump White House argued that the White House’s creative maneuvering to fund a border wall amounted to a violation of the appropriations clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress power over federal spending. McFadden refused the request to block border wall funding, but left open the possibility that a claim of presidential overreach could be resolved in the courts. “This case presents a close question about the appropriate role of the Judiciary in resolving disputes between the other two branches of the Federal Government,” McFadden wrote. “To be clear, the court does not imply that Congress may never sue the Executive to protect its powers.”

“McFadden’s order effectively kills the House suit, which sought to block the administration from tapping not only $1 billion already transferred from military pay and pensions accounts but also money from an emergency military construction fund that the administration said it intends to transfer but has not yet moved,” the Washington Post notes. “McFadden’s decision ran counter to a 2015 ruling that found the then GOP-led House could sue the Obama administration for allegedly spending on an Affordable Care Act program that Congress never approved, a ruling that would have marked the first time the House was able to challenge an administration in court. The case was settled before it withstood appeal.”

“Congress has several political arrows in its quiver to counter perceived threats to its sphere of power,” McFadden wrote. “These tools show that this lawsuit is not a last resort for the House. And this fact is also exemplified by the many other cases across the country challenging the administration’s planned construction of the border wall.”