WASHINGTON — President Trump ended a losing streak in court clashes with the House on Monday, as a federal judge rejected the Democrat-controlled chamber’s lawsuit seeking to stop him from using emergency powers to build a wall along the southwestern border.
Judge Trevor N. McFadden of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, ruled that the House could not show that it had suffered the sort of injury that gave it standing to sue.
The ruling will not have any immediate practical consequences because other groups have already secured an order blocking Mr. Trump from proceeding. But if other courts accept Judge McFadden’s reasoning, the House’s litigation options will narrow as it battles the president on several fronts.
Rulings from trial judges do not set binding precedents, however, and Judge McFadden’s ruling did not concern subpoenas issued by the House seeking information from the administration. He said a different legal analysis applied to disputes arising from such subpoenas.
Mr. Trump declared a national emergency in February to try to gain access to billions of dollars after Congress refused to give him money to build a wall. Last month, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California entered a preliminary injunction that stopped the administration from redirecting funds under the emergency declaration. Judge Gilliam was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama.
The cases in California were brought by private groups that did not face the standing issue in the case decided Monday.
Judge McFadden said courts should generally resolve disputes between the other two branches only as a last resort. Here, he wrote, “Congress has several political arrows in its quiver to counter perceived threats to its sphere of power,” including legislation “to expressly restrict the transfer or spending of funds for a border wall.”
Moreover, Judge McFadden wrote, “as it has recently shown, the House is more than capable of investigating conduct by the executive.” The House can also file briefs in lawsuits brought by private parties, he added, noting that it did so in the California cases.
“These tools show that this lawsuit is not a last resort for the House,” Judge McFadden wrote.
Judge McFadden ruling’s is in tension with a 2015 decision from Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who also sits on the Federal District Court in Washington and was appointed by President George W. Bush. Judge Collyer ruled that the House, then controlled by Republicans, had standing to challenge spending under Mr. Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
At the time, lawyers for the House argued that suing the White House was the only way to preserve its constitutional power to control federal spending and stop the administration from distributing $136 billion in insurance company subsidies.
Judge McFadden limited the sweep of his reasoning in one respect, saying courts may weigh in on disputes between the other two branches arising from congressional subpoenas.
“Using the judiciary to vindicate the House’s investigatory power is constitutionally distinct,” he wrote, adding that “the investigatory power is one of the few under the Constitution that each house of Congress may exercise individually.”
“It is perhaps for this reason,” he wrote, “that the House’s power to investigate has been enforced with periodic help from federal courts.”
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