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16 States File Lawsuit Against Trump's National Emergency Declaration

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week has seen a slew of lawsuits brought against President Trump's declaration of a national emergency, and that declaration attempts to divert funds to build a border wall, one of the president's key campaign promises. From member station KQED, Lily Jamali reports.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: The list of groups waiting to see the Trump administration in court is long, and the language in the lawsuits is colorful. One calls the president's national emergency a, quote, "bogus declaration." Another says he's shown flagrant disregard for the separation of powers. That last bit comes from the suit filed on, of all days, President's Day by 16 state attorneys general, all of them Democrats. It's led by California's top lawyer, Xavier Becerra, and was filed in the state's northern district.

JOHN EASTMAN: I think it's no accident that the lead on this litigation against President Trump's border was filed here in California.

JAMALI: John Eastman is a constitutional law professor at Chapman University. He and other conservatives are frustrated at the federal courts in the San Francisco Bay area being a favored venue for those seeking to sink the administration's policies.

EASTMAN: I think there's already a thumb on the scale in opposition to this particular president. The Northern District of California court is considered to be very liberal, and it's in the 9th Circuit, which is considered by most to be one of the most liberal circuit courts of appeal in the country.

JAMALI: But Professor Rory Little at the UC Hastings College of the Law cautions against the idea.

RORY LITTLE: It's a mistake to think that everybody appointed by a president is always going to be lockstep with that president. It's just not true. And judges in this district have ruled against the Obama or the Clinton position.

JAMALI: In their suit over the national emergency, Becerra and his fellow Democrat attorneys general accused the president of attempting an end run around Congress, which refused to give him all the money he wanted for construction of a border wall. The move diverts funds that might otherwise go to the states for military construction and other projects. Professor Little says the states will have to do more than prove that they've been harmed by the declaration of a national emergency.

LITTLE: You have to prove that somehow this diversion of funds will cause that harm. And that may not be as easy a slam dunk as we think it is.

JAMALI: The state's case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam based in Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAYWOOD GILLIAM: I thank President Obama for placing his trust in me by nominating me to this very important position.

JAMALI: That's Gilliam appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 2014. He's already presided over another high-profile suit against the Trump administration also led by California's Becerra. In that case, Judge Gilliam partly blocked the Trump administration's attempt to let employers refuse contraception coverage to women on moral grounds. The state's lawsuit over the national emergency is one of among at least five other similar suits just filed in federal courts in California, Washington, D.C., and Texas.

JESSICA LEVINSON: With more cases just comes more uncertainty...

JAMALI: Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson.

LEVINSON: ...More of the possibility that there could be some wins, more possibility that there could be some losses. And with split decisions, it means that it's more likely that this case would go to the Supreme Court.

JAMALI: Where Trump believes he can win. For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALTER WANDERLY'S "CRICKETS SING FOR ANA MARIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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