On President’s Day, Connecticut joined 15 other states to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to prevent the president from enforcing his plan to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by declaring a national emergency.
President Donald Trump declared the national emergency last Friday, noting that the construction of a border wall demands more than the $1.4 billion that Congress approved for border security. The declaration is intended to allow the president to bypass Congress and redirect funding — which was originally allocated to the Pentagon and other budgets –– in order to construct the 230 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The president has left us no choice but to take legal action to protect the people of Connecticut and the rule of law,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a news conference in his Hartford office on Tuesday afternoon. “Today’s action brings me no joy, but it is necessary to protect Connecticut and our Constitution.”
The plaintiffs contend that the president does not have the authority to reappropriate funds because it violates the Constitution, which entrusts Congress with authority over the nation’s budget, appropriations and expenditures. In his emergency declaration, Trump used campaign rhetoric to justify the move.
“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” Trump said during a Rose Garden press conference on Feb. 15. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
According to Tong, the situation on the border is far from a national emergency. He accused the president of being “hell-bent” on fulfilling a campaign promise — and willing to undermine the Constitution to achieve his goals.
The lawsuit is looking to prevent the commander in chief from redirecting federal funding that Congress originally allocated to the states. According to the lawsuit’s language, the Nutmeg State participated in this action because of the injury caused by the Trump administration’s unlawful and unconstitutional diversion of $6.1 billion towards border-wall construction, a portion of which was funding allocated towards Connecticut’s military construction projects, transportation infrastructure and counter-narcotic activity.
In an interview with the News, Connecticut Attorney General spokesperson Elizabeth Benton declined to elaborate on the lawsuit or the implications of Trump’s declaration of emergency because the state has developed a “strategy” to handle the situation.
“The border wall issue is a moving target, but we’re not going to give President Trump a roadmap to undermine the state of Connecticut,” Benton told the News. “”The Attorney General has made the strategic decision to present the complaint as filed…so we won’t identify any greater details outside of the official press release.”
On Tuesday, Trump declared that he expected to do “very well” in fighting the lawsuit.
He told reporters at the White House that the lawsuit will be quickly dismissed and that he had an “absolute right” to make the declaration, because the country needs to stop “drugs and crime and criminals” from entering its borders.
Trump’s actions may be protected by the National Emergencies Act, which formalized the emergency powers of the president in 1976, while also imposing procedural formalities when the president uses such powers. Every president has used the act multiple times, including former President Barack Obama, who declared a national emergency 13 times to address crises such as civil unrest in Yemen, the Russian invasion of Crimea and piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Other groups, including Congressional Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union, are looking into other methods to end the national emergency, but Tong believes that state governments are in a unique position.
“It’s become very clear that the states and states’ attorneys generals are the fire wall,” Tong said on CNN on Monday. “We’re what stands between this president and his attack on our way of life and our Constitution.”
Congress can end a national emergency with a joint resolution and the president’s signature or with a veto-proof two-thirds majority.
Although U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., applauded the passage of the federal budget, he expressed anger that Trump’s insistence on funding for a border wall resulted in the longest shutdown in U.S. history, leaving 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay for over a month.
“Declaring this a state of emergency is obviously unconstitutional, but President Trump doesn’t seem to care,” Murphy said in a statement on Feb. 15. “Trump says he’s some master negotiator, but he’s bungled this thing from the beginning.”
A national emergency has been declared by the sitting president 59 times since 1976.
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Correction, Feb. 20: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Benton as saying that the state has made a decision to file a legal complaint. In fact, the Attorney General has made the decision to present the complaint as filed.