The Supreme Court has directed lower courts to reconsider earlier rulings freezing funding for building former President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE's border wall in light of President BidenJoe BidenPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks State school board leaves national association saying they called parents domestic terrorists Sunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases MORE’s efforts to block its construction.
The remand punts challenges to the border wall from the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others who previously scored court victories determining that Trump inappropriately designated military funding for construction of the wall.
The high court vacated the earlier rulings “in light of the changed circumstances in this case,” siding with a Biden administration request that noted that the president on his inauguration day signed an order prohibiting border wall construction.
At issue in the case was some $3.6 billion in funding that the Biden administration has since designated for 66 different military construction projects that had been deferred. Groups had challenged Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to divert the funds — something both a district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found improper.
But the decision tees up another stage of the battle for border wall challengers who argue Biden must remediate the damage from the construction of the wall.
"Today’s order comes after the government conceded that the Trump wall was wasteful and destructive, and returns the case to the district court so that Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition can seek relief for the damage the wall has already inflicted,” Dror Ladin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement to The Hill.
That ranges from removing the wall, which environmentalists argue disrupts wildlife corridors, to addressing damage from its construction, which saw builders plow through federal lands, including bulldozing protected Arizona saguaro cacti.
But relitigating the case in the lower courts also gives the federal government a chance to push back on earlier court decisions that could limit executive power, particularly the president's ability to use emergency declarations.
The Supreme Court in February agreed to a Biden administration request to cancel upcoming arguments on a related case challenging the diversion of another $2.5 billion pot of military funds used for the wall.
"The President has directed the Executive Branch to undertake an assessment of 'the legality of the funding and contracting methods used to construct the wall,'" the administration wrote in its plea to the court.
"It would therefore be appropriate for the court to hold further proceedings in this case in abeyance to allow for the completion of the process that the president has directed," it added.