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

On February 15, 2019, President Trump declared a “national emergency” and directed that funds Congress appropriated for other purposes be diverted to build a so-called border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. A coalition of sixteen states, including California, as well as two organizations, the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, respectively brought suits against the President and others in his Administration, arguing that this diversion of funds exceeds the President’s authority under various federal laws. On April 4, Plaintiffs in both cases filed motions for a preliminary injunction to stop the President from using funds to build the wall. On May 2, CAC filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in support of Plaintiffs’ motions.

CAC’s amici curiae brief addresses one of the main arguments made by the government in the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition case—namely, that plaintiffs cannot challenge the legality of this executive action in court because no specific statute expressly provides them a cause of action.  Our brief explains why the government’s argument is wrong.  First, there is a long history of lawsuits in English law in which courts granted equitable remedies like injunctive relief to restrain unlawful executive action, including against the Crown, and this was true even when the common law did not provide an express remedy.  Second, the practice of granting equitable remedies without a statutory cause of action when plaintiffs challenge illegal executive action continued in the United States, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that redressing such claims is within the equitable power of the federal courts.  Finally, the government seeks to narrow the ability of courts to issue such equitable relief, but the restrictive standard the government would apply to all claims for equitable relief in reality is required only for one narrow subclass of equitable review: cases in which Congress creates statutory rights and establishes a judicial review scheme that implicitly precludes other modes of enforcing those rights.  No such judicial review scheme exists here.  For those reasons, our brief argues that the Court can and should hear this case on the merits.

On May 24, the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in State of California v. Trump and granted in part the preliminary injunction request in Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition v. Trump. In its opinion in Sierra Club, the court cited CAC’s amicus brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in explaining why the plaintiffs could challenge this executive action even in the absence of a statutory cause of action.

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)

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

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

  • July 3, 2019

    The Ninth Circuit voted to deny the stay (Sierra)