A coalition of 16 states filed suit to block President Donald Trump’s effort to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency, calling it a “flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles.”
“Contrary to the will of Congress, the President has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction, and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” a complaint obtained by POLITICO and filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California read.
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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had been telegraphing for weeks that he was prepared to take swift legal action if Trump followed through on his repeated vows to invoke an immigration emergency to justify diverting wall funding.
“It’s kind of awkward to say that on Presidents’ Day we’re going to be suing the president of the United States, but sometimes that’s what you have to do,” Becerra said during a Monday appearance on CNN.
The complaint alleges that Trump “has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making” despite Congress refusing to allocate the funds needed to start construction. It cites his remarks in a Friday press conference that he “didn’t need to do this” as evidence his emergency declaration is without merit.
Just as Trump’s emergency declaration seemed designed to invigorate supporters to whom he promised a physical southern barrier, it seemed guaranteed to unify Democrats in opposition. Except for Maryland, all of the states that joined the lawsuit have Democratic governors.
The complaint repeatedly underscores the larger political context, arguing the president is indulging in a “vanity project“ — a favorite formulation of the wall’s opponents — and citing years of Trump’s tweets and public statements to highlight how he has been intent on the project dating back to at least August of 2014.
In addition to arguing that “there is no objective basis” for a national emergency given that unlawful entries to the U.S. have tumbled to a 45-year low, the lawsuit argues that states would suffer from losing millions of dollars to fund drug enforcement and forfeiting funds tabbed for military construction projects to the detriment of state economies.
The border states of California and New Mexico would also incur “irreparable environmental damage,” the suit argues. Becerra has already challenged the Trump administration’s move to expedite construction by waiving environmental laws, though courts have so far sided with the federal administration.
The lawsuit builds on California’s record of defying the Trump administration with dozens of lawsuits over the past few years. In addition to California, the other states that joined the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.
“Declaring a National Emergency when one does not exist is immoral and illegal,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Diverting necessary funds from real emergencies, crime-fighting activities, and military construction projects usurps Congressional power and will hurt Americans across the country. We will not stand for this abuse of power and will fight using every tool at our disposal.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal echoed his fellow attorneys general in saying Trump’s action was ill-considered and unconstitutional.
“The real national emergency is a President who refuses to adhere to the rule of law,” Grewal said in a statement. “In its effort to cater to a select few on the right, this Administration is trampling on our Constitution and circumventing the will of Congress. As the chief law enforcement officer for New Jersey, I have a duty to stand up for New Jersey’s residents – including our immigrant community – and so I’m joining states across the country in challenging this emergency declaration in court.”
—Laura Nahmias in New York contributed to this report.