Seattle Judge Says Trump Can’t Use Washington Military Funds for Border Wall

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
February 28, 2020Updated: May 13, 2020

A federal judge in Seattle ruled on Feb. 27 that the Trump administration will not be able to divert millions of dollars intended for a military construction project in Washington state to build his wall across the U.S.–Mexico border.

The ruling comes after the Trump administration announced earlier this month it would shift nearly $4 billion from the military budget toward building some 177 miles of fencing along the border in efforts to address drug-smuggling activities.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein on Thursday blocked the administration from dipping into $89 million in Pentagon funds intended for a construction project at the Naval Submarine Base Bangor, also known as the Bangor Project.

Rothstein ruled that shifting the money intended for the project is unlawful because it would take money that Congress appropriated for military construction and use it for domestic law enforcement. Rothstein also ruled it unlawful because Congress specifically barred President Donald Trump from spending additional money on the border wall.

“Congress repeatedly and deliberately declined to appropriate the full funds the President requested for a border wall along the southern border of the United States,” Rothstein wrote.

In her ruling, Rothstein highlighted the importance of Bangor, which she said is “home to the United States Pacific Fleet of Trident Ballistic Missile Submarines, nuclear-powered submarines that carry nuclear warheads.”

“It is difficult for this Court to imagine much, if anything, that could be more important to the State of Washington than that the nuclear-powered submarines carrying nuclear warheads are secure when traveling through its waters,” Rothstein wrote. “The potentially disastrous results of unsecure nuclear weapons within the State’s boundaries are so obvious that they do not need to be elaborated on here.”

“It can hardly be denied that the public has a strong interest both in the integrity of this country’s borders and in ensuring that the armed forces are well-supported while deploying the missions,” she said in her ruling. “However, doing so cannot be done at the expense of our laws.”

Congress in late 2018 and early 2019 refused to give Trump all the money he wanted for a border wall, leading to a 35-day partial government shutdown. Lawmakers eventually gave him $1.4 billion.

In reaction, Trump declared a national emergency. The administration claimed that allowed him to shift almost three times that much money—$3.6 billion—from military accounts to build a combined 175 miles of fencing in California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.

The U.S. Supreme Court last summer lifted a court order that prevented the government from spending $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s money for military pensions and anti-drug efforts. But legal challenges continue concerning that money as well as the $3.6 billion the Pentagon is diverting from military construction projects.

A request was sent to Congress earlier this month, stating that the money is “required to provide support for counter-drug activities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

Since taking office, Trump has demanded that Congress fund construction of a wall on the southern border—his landmark campaign promise.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.