Environmental groups begged the Supreme Court on Thursday to step in and block construction of President Trump’s border wall, saying he is illegally circumventing dozens of laws designed to protect everything from wildlife to Native American graves.
The groups lost a challenge in a lower court and said it’s up to the justices to block Mr. Trump before his wall goes too far.
They say the government is abusing a 2005 law that allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive environmental laws when building border barriers.
“Trump’s abuse of power and dangerous fixation with the border wall have to be reined in before it causes even more devastation,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump can’t wave a wand and ignore bedrock environmental and public health laws. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take this case so these critical constitutional issues can be addressed.”
The waivers have been used by past administrations to build much of the fencing that already exists on the border. But Mr. Trump’s plan for a massive expansion of hundreds of miles of new and replacement walls has reignited the controversy.
In building early sections of the Trump wall, the government issued a waiver covering some of the country’s most iconic protections, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the Eagle Protection Act.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel ruled this year for Mr. Trump, rejecting challenges by the environmental groups and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Judge Curiel said he wasn’t ruling on whether the wall proposal was good or bad — just that the waivers being used to build it were legal.
“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” he wrote in his February decision.
Under the law, any appeal goes straight to the Supreme Court, although the justices can refuse to hear the case, which would leave Judge Curiel’s ruling in place.
The environmental groups argue that waiver laws are too broad and Congress cannot give that sort of discretion to the executive branch.
The wall was a major part of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and remains a top priority for him now that he’s in the White House.
He says it will cut down on illegal crossings and drug trafficking.
So committed is the president that he has threatened to orchestrate a government shutdown if the wall doesn’t receive enough funding from Congress.
He says $3.2 billion has been allocated in 2017 and 2018 and he wants $5 billion more for 2019.
That’s a stretch for senators, who have written a bill that includes just $1.6 billion for 2019. House Republicans’ version, meanwhile, includes $5 billion.
That disagreement appears likely to stymie chances for a homeland spending bill to be passed before the Oct. 1 deadline for the new fiscal year.
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