Sierra Club v. Trump
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 exceeded the President’s authority under the Constitution and federal laws. CAC filed multiple amici curiae briefs on behalf of federal courts scholars in support of the plaintiffs’ ability to bring this challenge against President Trump’s unlawful diversion of funds.
Our briefs addressed the central arguments being made by the Trump administration to escape judicial review: that the plaintiffs could not bring this lawsuit because no statute authorized them to sue, and that the plaintiffs were not within the “zone of interests” protected by the laws that the administration violated.
Our brief explained why the administration’s arguments were 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 lawfulness of executive action.
Second, our brief showed 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 explained, 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.
The district court for the Northern District of California issued a permanent injunction ordering the Trump administration not to fund the border wall using money diverted from a Defense Department appropriations act. The district court’s opinion cited CAC’s amici 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 halting that conduct.
In July 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and upheld the injunction. Heavily echoing our brief, the Ninth Circuit explained that the plaintiff organizations could bring an equitable challenge against the unauthorized funding of the border wall in order to prevent the injuries that the wall’s construction would cause them, and that the zone-of-interests test did not apply to such a claim.
Separately, the district court (again citing our brief) also enjoined the administration from funding the border wall under a statute that authorizes “military construction projects,” and the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision.
In October 2020, the Supreme Court granted review, and in January 2021 CAC again filed an amici curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs on behalf of federal courts scholars. The case was scheduled for argument in February 2021 but was removed from the Court’s argument calendar after the new Biden administration changed its policy on border wall funding, making the dispute moot. Later that year, at the request of the Biden administration, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court judgments and remanded the cases.
May 2, 2019
CAC files amici curiae brief in support of Plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunctionN.D. Cal. Amici Curiae Brief
May 24, 2019
The district court issues a preliminary injunction
June 11, 2019
CAC files amici curiae brief in opposition to Defendants’ motion for a stay9th Cir. Amici Br.
July 3, 2019
The Ninth Circuit denies the stay
July 26, 2019
The Supreme Court grants a stay
August 22, 2019
CAC files amici curiae brief supporting affirmance of the district court’s permanent injunction against using funds from the Department of Defense Appropriations Act9th Cir. Amici Br.
November 4, 2019
CAC files amici curiae brief in opposition to the defendants’ motions for partial summary judgment in the district court on using military construction fundsN.D. Cal. Amicus Br.
February 20, 2020
CAC files amici curiae brief supporting affirmance of the district court’s permanent injunction on using military construction funds9th Cir. Amici Br.
June 26, 2020
The Ninth Circuit affirms the district court’s first permanent injunction
July 28, 2020
CAC files amici curiae brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of federal courts scholars in support of motion to lift staySup. Ct. Amici Br.
July 31, 2020
Supreme Court denies motion to lift stay
October 9, 2020
The Ninth Circuit affirms the district court’s second permanent injunction
October 19, 2020
The Supreme Court grants certiorari
January 19, 2021
CAC files amici curiae brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of federal courts scholarsSup. Ct. Amici Br.
February 3, 2021
The Supreme Court grants the government’s motion to hold further briefing in abeyance and remove the case from its oral argument calendar
July 2, 2021
The Supreme Court vacates the Ninth Circuit’s first judgment and remands
October 4, 2021
The Supreme Court vacates the Ninth Circuit’s second judgment and remands