President Trump on Monday notched a rare victory in the California-based federal appeals court by winning a dispute over the construction of certain barriers along small stretches of the U.S. border with Mexico.
The Hill reports,
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that sided with the Trump administration in a lawsuit challenging its authority to waive environmental and public participation laws to expedite the border construction projects.
A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has broad authority under the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to construct wall “prototypes,” replace 14 miles of primary fencing near San Diego and replace similar fencing along a three-mile strip close to Calexico, Calif.
A coalition of environmental groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, challenged the authority of DHS to waive dozens of laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to make it easier to build the border infrastructure. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) also filed suit.
Steven Stafford, a Justice Department spokesman, said Monday that Congress has given the executive branch significant authority to build physical barriers on the U.S. border.
“Today the court has affirmed that authority, and that is a victory for the Trump administration, for the rule of law, and above all, for our border security,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
The appeals court decision narrows the path for environmental groups to launch legal challenges to Trump’s high-profile push for expanding border barriers, including his campaign promise to build a wall along much of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Congress has ceded its authority to Trump, who has swept aside fundamental public safety and environmental laws to build walls that won’t work,” Brian Segee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney, said after Monday’s ruling. “This lawlessness is destroying irreplaceable ecosystems and militarizing communities.”
The Supreme Court in December declined to hear the groups’ attempt to bring the case directly to the high court after losing initially in the district court. The groups warned the justices that the environmental impact of the projects authorized by the waivers would be substantial.
“The border walls are within, or in close proximity to, the habitats of rare animal and plant species including the burrowing owl, Quino checkerspot butterfly, Tecate cypress, snowy plover, two species of fairy shrimp, and the Otay Mesa mint,” they said in their petition to the Supreme Court.
A similar coalition is challenging a related legal waiver for border barriers in Texas. The proposed structures would cut through various protected areas, including the National Butterfly Center.
Environmentalists have argued that border barriers are disastrous for ecosystems and wildlife since they disrupt habitats, breeding grounds and migration paths.
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