Access to Justice

Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition v. Trump; State of California v. Trump

In Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition v. Trump and State of California v. Trump, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California considered whether President Trump can lawfully divert funds that Congress has appropriated for other purposes for the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Case Summary

In February 2019, following months of trying to secure funding from Congress to build a wall along the southern border, President Trump declared a “national emergency” and directed that funds Congress appropriated for other purposes be diverted to build the wall. A coalition of states, as well as two nonprofit organizations, the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, brought suits against the President and executive officials, arguing that this diversion of funds exceeds the President’s authority under the Constitution and federal laws. In April 2019, plaintiffs in both cases filed motions for preliminary injunctions to stop the President from using funds to build the wall. CAC filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in support of the plaintiffs’ motions, explaining why the plaintiffs could challenge this unlawful executive action without a statutory “cause of action” authorizing them to sue.

The district court granted in part the preliminary injunction request in Sierra Club v. Trump. In doing so, the court cited CAC’s amicus brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in explaining why persons who are injured by unauthorized government conduct do not need a statutory cause of action to seek injunctive relief to halt that conduct.

The Trump administration then asked the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to stay the district court’s preliminary injunction. CAC filed another amicus curiae brief on behalf of federal courts scholars before the Ninth Circuit, which denied the administration’s request for a stay. The Supreme Court subsequently granted a stay, however.

Meanwhile, in June 2019 the district court granted a permanent injunction, prohibiting the Trump administration from using unlawfully diverted funds to construct a border wall. The administration appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit.

CAC again filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in the Ninth Circuit. Our brief addresses the central arguments being made by the Trump administration on appeal: that the plaintiffs cannot bring this lawsuit because no statute authorizes them to sue, and that the plaintiffs are not within the “zone of interests” protected by the laws that the administration claims authorize its actions.

Our brief explains why the administration’s arguments are wrong. First, the federal courts’ power to order injunctive (“equitable”) relief has long included the power to order the government to stop unauthorized conduct that injures a plaintiff—regardless of whether a statute provides a cause of action authorizing that plaintiff to sue. As the Supreme Court has explained, this form of equitable review reflects a long history in our legal tradition, tracing back to England, of judicially reviewing the legality of executive action.

Second, our brief shows that when plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to stop unauthorized government conduct that is injuring them, no “zone of interests” test limits their ability to obtain that relief. As we explain, the zone-of-interests test applies only when a plaintiff relies on a statutorily conferred cause of action to vindicate rights that were created by legislation. But where, as here, plaintiffs do not rely on such statutes, because they are directly injured by unauthorized government conduct, there is no “zone of interests” test to apply.

Case Timeline

  • May 2, 2019

    CAC files amici curiae brief in support of Plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction

    N.D. Cal. Amici Curiae Brief
  • May 17, 2019

    The district court holds a hearing on the preliminary injunction

  • May 24, 2019

    The district court issues its decision on the preliminary injunction

  • June 11, 2019

    CAC files amici curiae brief in opposition to Defendants’ motion for a stay (Sierra Club)

    9th Cir. Amici Br.
  • June 20, 2019

    The Ninth Circuit hears oral arguments on the motion for a stay pending appeal (Sierra Club)

  • July 3, 2019

    The Ninth Circuit voted to deny the stay (Sierra Club)

  • July 26, 2019

    The Supreme Court grants a stay (Sierra Club)

  • August 22, 2019

    CAC files an amici curiae brief supporting affirmance of the district court’s permanent injunction

    9th Cir. Amici Br.
  • November 4, 2019

    CAC files an amici curiae brief in opposition to the defendants’ motions for partial summary judgment in the district court

    N.D. Cal. Amicus Br.
  • November 12, 2019

    The Ninth Circuit holds a hearing on the injunction

  • November 20, 2019

    The district court holds a hearing on the motion for partial summary judgment

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