EL PASO, Texas — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from spending some Defense Department money to build a border wall with Mexico, the latest twist in a long-running legal battle over one of the president’s signature domestic issues and campaign priorities.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge David Briones in El Paso, Texas, prevents the government from spending $3.6 billion that was diverted in September from 127 military construction projects to pay for 175 miles of border wall.
His decision doesn’t apply to another pot of Pentagon money, $2.5 billion that was initially meant for counter-drug operations and was redirected to wall spending. In July, the Supreme Court granted an emergency order allowing that money to be spent during a legal challenge.
The Justice Department said it would appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
Spending that was halted — at least for now — is intended for 11 projects in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The longest and most expensive by far would blanket 52 miles in Laredo, Texas, at an estimated cost of $1.27 billion.
The Pentagon freed $6.1 billion after Trump declared a national emergency on the Mexican border to end a government shutdown in February. Congress gave $1.4 billion for wall construction, far less than what Trump wanted.
Briones, ruling in a case filed by El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights, said he didn’t want to minimize the importance of border security but “that concern cannot override the public’s interest in the Executive Branch complying with the law.”
“That is especially so when Congress — the [p]eople’s representatives — determined that securing the border required only $1.375 billion, not $6.1 billion, to be spent on a wall,” he wrote.
Briones, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, stopped short of extending his ruling to the $2.5 billion pot of Pentagon money because, he wrote, it would effectively override the Supreme Court.
The president’s critics cheered the decision.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it “confirms the president’s national emergency declaration to steal funds from military families to build a wall he promised Mexico would pay for was, and is, an outrageous power grab by a president who refuses to respect the constitutional separation of powers.”