The United States federal appellate court has faulted President Trump's constitutional authority to repurpose $2.5 billion in military funds to construct barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a 2-1 decision on Friday June 26, 2020, a three-judge panel in San Francisco declared the transfer of funds unlawful, saying that the constitutional authority to appropriate federal money lies solely with Congress.
The court's ruling is a setback for Mr. Trump, who has been reiterating his commitment to erecting a wall at the southern border to deter unauthorized crossings and drug smuggling.
"Here, the Executive Branch lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds," Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said.
"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," he added.
President Trump, who was touting the construction of a border wall at his electioneering, earlier stated that Mexican government would finance the project.
But he has repeatedly asked Congress for funds with little success.
The administration has allocated a pool of more than $15 billion in funds and used it to build more than 200 miles of bollard-type border barriers, most of which have replaced dilapidated and low structures designed to prevent the entry of motor vehicles.
Most of the money, about $10 billion, has been diverted from the Pentagon's multi-billion-dollar budget. Congress has authorized the rest of the funds.
Democratic Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, who represents a border district in Arizona, lauded the 9th Circuit's decision.
He highlighted concerns about the environmental impact of construction on federal lands and wildlife reserves.
"This court ruling reaffirms what we already knew: The Trump Administration broke the law when it stole congressionally-appropriated funds from the Defense Department to build his ridiculous vanity wall," Grijalva said.
"I'm pleased the court finally listened to the voices of border communities who have long decried the militarization, destruction, and waste that has accompanied border wall construction in their own communities," he added.
The Justice Department is likely to appeal Friday's ruling to the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which lifted a lower court order last summer that had blocked another $2.5 billion transfer of military funds for border wall construction.
Alexei Woltornist, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which is overseeing border barrier construction — said the department is "sorely disappointed in this decision."