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The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a lower court to “vacate its judgments” against a Trump administration plan to use billions of dollars in diverted Department of Defense funds to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
What are the details?
The order involves the use of $3.6 billion in diverted Pentagon funds for border wall construction initially prescribed by former President Donald Trump under a national emergency declaration after efforts stalled to secure congressional funding for the project. The move prompted fury and legal challenges from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Those environmental groups went on to win in lower courts. But when the Trump administration appealed the matter to the Supreme Court, the top court ordered that construction could continue while the case made its way through the legal system.
Then, President Joe Biden took office and circumstances dramatically changed. Biden ended the policy of diverting military funds to border wall construction by executive order, instead transferring the funds toward other military projects.
Responding to the changes, the Supreme Court decided Monday to remand previous rulings to lower courts and ordered them to relitigate the issue.
“The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with instructions to direct the district court to vacate its judgments,” the Supreme Court wrote. “The district court should consider what further proceedings are necessary and appropriate in light of the changed circumstances in this case.”
Law360 noted that “the justices’ one-paragraph ruling did not provide a detailed rationale for vacating the Ninth Circuit ruling that had barred the funding redirection, beyond pointing to the ‘changed circumstances’ in the case.”
While the court order appears on the surface to be a major blow to the Biden administration, the legal blog noted the administration “had sought precisely this outcome.” Relitigation could allow the federal government to push back against earlier rulings that limited executive power.
The Hill reported that the decision also “tees up another stage of the battle for border wall challengers who argue Biden must remediate the damage from the construction of the wall.”
In a statement to the news outlet, Dror Ladin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, said: “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.”
Proponents of Trump’s plan for border wall funding likely hope that relitigation will result in a better outcome for the wall’s continued construction.