Appeals court: Trump can't raid Pentagon budget for 'wall' funds

"I didn't need to do this," Trump conceded in February 2019. Evidently, there are some federal judges who've reached a similar conclusion.
United State Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott gives President Donald Trump a tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz., on June 23, 2020.
United State Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott gives President Donald Trump a tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz., on June 23, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

After failing to secure funding from Congress for new border barriers, Donald Trump started raiding the Defense Department's budget, redirecting billions of dollars away from the military and toward his misguided "wall" initiative.

Can the president legally do that? Almost exactly a year ago today, a district court ruled against the White House and deemed the transfer of funds impermissible. Today, as NBC News report, a federal appeals court came to the same conclusion.

The Trump administration does not have the authority to use military funding to pay for construction of a border wall, a federal appeals court panel ruled on Friday. In a 2-1 ruling, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that diverting $2.5 billion Congress had appropriated for the military violated the Constitution and is unlawful.

The full ruling from the 9th Circuit in Sierra Club v. Trump is online here (pdf). Note, the dissent in the case was written by Judge Daniel P. Collins -- a Trump appointee -- while the majority were judges chosen for the bench by Bill Clinton.

The executive branch "lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds," Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote for the majority. "These funds were appropriated for other purposes, and the transfer amounted to 'drawing funds from the Treasury without authorization by statute and thus violating the Appropriations Clause.' Therefore, the transfer of funds here was unlawful."

The same ruling noted that Trump "has long supported the construction of a border wall on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Since the President took office in 2017, however, Congress has repeatedly declined to provide the amount of funding requested by the President."

In other words, lawmakers have the "power of the purse" -- a phrase repeatedly referenced in today's ruling -- and the White House can't change this because of his impatience with Congress saying no to him.

Though it wasn't explicitly mentioned by the appellate bench, it probably didn't help matters that Trump stepped on his own legal defense. It was, after all, last year when the president early declared a national emergency at the border, effectively admitting at the time that there was no emergency, and he was raiding Defense funds for the sake of convenience.

"I didn't need to do this," the president conceded in February 2019.

Evidently, there are some federal judges who've reached a similar conclusion.