Environmental activists say the construction of enhanced barriers on parts of the U.S.-Mexico barrier could pose a grave risk to already-endangered species.
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to a hear case challenging President Donald Trump’s ability to override environmental protection laws for the construction of an enhanced barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
CNN reports that the lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, along with other environmental and wildlife advocacy groups. Collectively, they alleged that the president’s border project is likely to harm already-threatened flora and fauna along the border.
“We’re disappointed that the Supreme Court won’t consider the Trump administration’s flagrant abuse of the law to fast-track border wall construction,” said CBD attorney Jean Su. “This administration has made a mockery of the Constitution to build an enormously destructive wall. We’ll continue to fight these illegal waivers and do everything possible to prevent further damage to the beautiful borderlands.”
Jason Rylander, endangered species counsel for co-litigant organization Defenders of Wildlife, told CNN that, disappointed as he may be, it seems this particular case has reached “the end of the line.”
“We had hoped that this would be the time that the court would up the serious Constitutional issues surrounding this administration’s waiver of environmental law to expedite construction of the border wall,” Rylander said. “It’s unfortunate that they did not, because we believe that there continue to be serious issues.”
Environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife alleged that the Department of Homeland Security, in continuing to expand the border wall through sensitive natural habitats, ignored the impact of construction upon “endangered species such as the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, Sonoran pronghorn and bighorn sheep, whose continued existence depends on the freedom of cross-border migration.”
But the Trump administration said that the federal government can upturn environmental law when it approves waivers to address other matters of pressing concern.
“It is Congress, and not the executive branch, that made the policy judgment in [this law] that the need for expeditious construction of barriers and roads in areas of high illegal entry in the vicinity of the United States border outweighs the policy interests advanced by other laws,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a brief.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the Supreme Court’s decision to decline the case comes less than a week after a lower court handed border advocacy groups a major victory.
In that ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that President Trump had overstepped his authority by appropriating $2.5 billion in already-earmarked Department of Defense funds for a border wall.
The court’s 2-1 ruling asserted that Congress—and Congress alone—has constitutional authority over federal spending. And because Congress had already designated the money for a variety of military purposes, Trump could not simply take and reroute the funds without the legislature’s explicit approval.