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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Plans to Build Part of Southern Border Wall

A federal judge blocked on Friday President Donald Trump from building sections of his long-sought border wall

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Federal Judge, Southern Border Wall
The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several large contacts with Pentagon funding. Pixabay

A federal judge blocked on Friday President  Trump from building sections of his long-sought border wall with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr., immediately halted the administration’s efforts to redirect military-designated funds for wall construction. His order applies to two high-priority projects to replace 51 miles (82 kilometers) of fence in two areas on the Mexican border.

Gilliam issued the ruling after hearing arguments last week in two cases. California and 19 other states brought one lawsuit; the Sierra Club and a coalition of communities along the border brought the other. His ruling was the first of several lawsuits against Trump’s controversial decision to bypass the normal appropriations process to pay for his long-sought wall.

Gilliam, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on arguments that the president was wrongly ignoring Congress’ wishes.

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President Donald Trump signs the first veto of his presidency in the Oval Office of the White House, March 15, 2019, in Washington. Trump issued the veto to protect his emergency declaration for border wall funding. VOA

“Congress’s ‘absolute’ control over federal expenditures — even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important — is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one,” he wrote in his 56-page opinion.

A judge in Washington, D.C., is hearing a similar challenge brought by the U.S. House of Representatives that argued the money shifting violates the constitution. The judge was weighing whether the lawmakers even had the ability to sue the president instead of working through political routes to resolve the bitter dispute.

Campaign promise

At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make progress in a signature campaign promise heading into his campaign for a second term.

Trump declared a national emergency in February after losing a fight with the Democratic-led House over fully paying for the wall that led to a 35-day government shutdown. As a compromise on border and immigration enforcement, Congress set aside $1.375 billion to extend or replace existing barriers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

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Trump grudgingly accepted the money, but then declared the national emergency to siphon money from other government accounts because he wanted to spend $8 billion on wall construction. The funds include $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counter-drug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.

The president’s adversaries say the emergency declaration was an illegal attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized far less wall spending than Trump wanted.

“We welcome the court’s decision to block Trump’s attempts to sidestep Congress to build deadly walls that would hurt communities living at the border, endanger wildlife, and have damaging impacts on the environment,” said Andrea Guerrero, a member of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

The administration said Trump was protecting national security as unprecedented numbers of Central American asylum-seeking families arrive at the U.S. border.

Treasury funds allowed

It wasn’t a total defeat for the administration.

Federal Judge, Southern Border Wall
FILE – A man walks past a sign in support of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, home to 400-plus species of birds and several endangered wildcats, at a rally in Mission, Texas, Aug. 12, 2017. VOA

Gilliam rejected a request by the 20 states to block use of Treasury asset forfeiture funds for border wall construction. The states argued that Trump skirted environmental impact reviews but the judge said they were unlikely to prevail on that point.

The administration has said it plans to use the Treasury money to extend barriers in the Rio Grande Valley.

The courtroom showdowns come amid a flurry of activity to accelerate wall construction. The preliminary injunction applies to the two highest-priority Pentagon-funded wall contracts.

The Defense Department transferred $1 billion to border wall coffers in March and another $1.5 billion earlier this month. Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, is expected to decide soon whether to transfer an additional $3.6 billion.

Contracts announced

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several large contacts with Pentagon funding. Last month, SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won a $789 million award to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico.

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Last week, Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a $646 million award to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona, sector. Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, won a $141.8 million contract to replace 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma and 15 miles (24 kilometers) in El Centro, California.

Aside from California, states participating in the legal challenge are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. ( VOA)

 

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Federal Judge Uphold Massachusetts’ Four-Month Ban on Sale of Vaping Products

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani denied the vaping industry’s request for a temporary reprieve from the ban while their legal challenge plays out.

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Demonstrators gather at the Massachusetts State House to protest against the state’s four-month ban of all vaping product sales in Boston, Oct. 3, 2019. VOA

A federal judge upheld Massachusetts’ four-month ban on the sale of vaping products Friday, at least for now.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani denied the vaping industry’s request for a temporary reprieve from the ban while their legal challenge plays out in Boston federal court, saying the plaintiffs did not show they would likely succeed on the merits of the case or that the “balance of hardships” weighs in their favor. Talwani had said in a hearing earlier in the day that the legal motion felt premature and that the public health concerns prompting the ban likely outweigh any short-term impacts to local businesses.

Another court hearing is set for Oct. 15 where both sides are expected to deliver more extensive arguments in the case.

Lawyers representing local vape shops argued that small, independent operators are being disproportionally hurt by the ban, with many forced to lay off staff or close their shops entirely.

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks with reporters, Sept. 16, 2019, at the Statehouse, in Boston. VOA

“You’re saying I ought to be more concerned about the economic harm to businesses for a two-week period than the potential people who will end up in the hospital during this two-week period?” Talwani asked industry lawyers at one point during the hearing.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker issued the ban and declared a public health emergency Sept. 24 after more than 60 potential cases of lung disease related to the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping were reported to the state.

The state Public Health Department has since said at least 10 represent probable or confirmed cases of lung illness caused by e-cigarette products. Nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said 18 have died and 1,080 people have been sickened.

Baker has said the ban will allow health officials to determine the cause of the illnesses and decide what further steps are required.

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At least three lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court challenging Massachusetts’ ban, which runs through Jan. 25, 2020, and is considered among the harshest imposed on the industry. Several states, including Michigan, Oregon and Rhode Island, have issued some kind of ban. On Thursday, an appeals court in New York temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a proposed ban on sales of flavored e-cigarettes.

The Vapor Technology Association, a national trade group that’s challenging the bans, argued in its federal lawsuit in Massachusetts that the ban will cause “irreparable harm” to their multimillion-dollar industry.

It also said the ban poses a public health risk by eliminating what it argues is a safer alternative to tobacco and forcing those seeking vaping products to find them on the black market. (VOA)