A Lawsplainer On The Nihilist Supreme Court Declaring Trump King
Donald Trump wants to steal $6.7 billion from various government agencies for his racist wall on our southern border that he keeps saying Mexico is going to pay for. On Friday, the Supreme Court made it a lot easier for him.
Let's back up ...
One of Trump's most noxious 2016 campaign promises was that he was going to build a giant wall on our border with Mexico -- and that Mexico was going to pay for it.
Of course, we all knew that Mexico was never going to pay for Trump's vanity wall. We started off the new year in the midst of the longest federal government shutdown in history, thanks to the commander-in-chief having a temper tantrum over not getting funding for his racist border wall. So, although the only crisis on our southern border is a humanitarian crisis of our own making, Trump declared a national emergency.
As predicted by Yr Wonkette's own Five Dollar Feminist, Trump's bogus emergency declaration was immediately met with litigation. Sixteen states, the Sierra Club, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the US House of Representatives, among others, have filed lawsuits to try to stop Trump from raiding various pots of money to build his stupid fucking wall.
Overall, Trump has earmarked several billion dollars for his border wall. The cases at issue here are about the $2.5 billion he wants to take from the military. Judge Gilliam, a federal judge based in Oakland, issued injunctions blocking Trump from stealing the $2.5 billion from the Pentagon to build his monument to racism. Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit upheld the injunctions. So naturally, the Supreme Court stepped in on Friday to give Trump the go-ahead.
I wish I could say I was surprised by the Supreme Court's decision here, but I'm not. Beginning with its checkmark of approval for Trump's Muslim ban in 2018, the Supreme Court's right wing has made it clear that they really like giving this wannabe tyrant's executive overreach their stamp of approval.
The Constitution makes it pretty clear that the legislature is the branch of our government with the power of the purse. If the executive branch wants government money, it has to go through Congress. Unless, of course, you think you're the CEO of the US, rather than its president. Then you just roll with a strategy of "I do what I want."
It's 2019 and nothing matters anymore, so here we are. The House of Representatives filed a suit in federal court in DC attempting to block the wall, but Trump-appointed Judge McFadden dismissed the suit, saying the House has no standing to sue over the president ignoring the Constitution. (Check out our lawsplainer on the Trump emoluments cases for more info on standing.) That ruling is currently on appeal to the DC Circuit.
In an unsigned order, the Court's five
GOP shills "conservatives" reversed the lower courts and told the racist-in-chief to raid the Department of Defense coffers and start building. Without any further explanation, the Court said that "the Government has made a sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action" to challenge what Trump is doing and sent the cases back down to the lower courts.
So what happens now?
Now, the parties keep duking it out. The Supreme Court's order is a stay of the lower courts' decisions, not a final opinion. Here's how the ACLU, which is representing Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition (and is my former employer), described the order:
Instead, in temporarily granting the administration's request to begin wall construction, the majority's brief, one-paragraph order stated that "the Government has made sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action to obtain review." The words "at this stage" are key. To receive a temporary stay, which the government was asking for here, the bar is lower than for normal review. The government has to show only a "fair possibility" in prevailing on the cause of action issue.
Unfortunately, the order also gives us a pretty clear idea of how SCOTUS will eventually rule on these cases. A stay like this one gives a pretty good indication of what the Court thinks about the merits of the lower court decisions. If the Court planned on stopping this gross misappropriation of funds, now would be the time. And once contracts are signed and construction has begun, the dumbass wall will only be that much harder to stop.
The fact that the president wants to spend literally billions of dollars building a monument to racism is scary enough. But the stakes of this case are higher than that. If the Supreme Court accepts the government's arguments in this case, it will cause irretrievable damage to our democratic system. Per the ACLU:
[T]he government has been pushing the courts to adopt the extreme view that no injured party — not our clients, or impacted states, or even the House of Representatives — can go to court to block the president's blatant abuse of power. It's arguing the president's actions are unreviewable by the courts.
That is a dangerous proposition, and it would be a huge setback for our democratic system if the Supreme Court adopts it. But Trump hasn't succeeded in convincing five justices to give him that power yet — and for good reason.
A basic rule of our democracy is that when the government acts without legal authority, the courts are open to injured parties who seek to block that unlawful action. If the courts start washing their hands of that responsibility by not allowing people in court — as the government is encouraging they do — blatant abuses of power will go unchecked, and the rule of law will be forever damaged.
This should concern everyone, regardless of one's political affiliation. No matter which party is in power, the courts have a critical role to play in making sure that the executive branch doesn't have unreviewable authority to ignore the law. Otherwise, everyone from bureaucrats to FBI agents to cabinet secretaries to the president would be empowered to disregard the basic principles of our democracy.
So that's just great.