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The Constitution assigns to Congress the power of the purse. Under the Appropriations Clause, it is Congress that is to make decisions regarding how to spend taxpayer dollars. The Appropriations Clause serves as a check by requiring that not a dollar of money in the Treasury can be used in the payment of any thing not thus previously sanctioned by Congress, as any other course would give to the fiscal officers a most dangerous discretion. The Appropriations Clause is a bulwark of the Constitution's separation of powers among the three branches of the National Government. It is particularly important as a restraint on Executive Branch officers: If not for the Appropriations Clause, the executive would possess an unbounded power over the public purse of the nation; and might apply all its monied resources at his pleasure. The Clause prevents the Executive Branch from even inadvertently obligating the Government to pay money without statutory authority. The public interest in ensuring protection of this separation of powers is foundational and requires little elaboration.
President Donald Trump “reprogrammed” funds appropriated by Congress to the Department of Defense ("DoD") for Army personnel needs, and redirected the same toward building a barrier along portions of the United States’ southern border. The Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition (collectively, "Plaintiffs") sued the President and certain of his cabinet members (collectively, “Defendants”) to enjoin the reprogramming and the funds' expenditure. Plaintiffs argued that the requirements of section 8005 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019 had not been satisfied and that the use of the funds to build a border barrier was accordingly unsupported by any congressional appropriation and thus unconstitutional. A federal district court agreed with Plaintiffs and enjoined Defendants from using reprogrammed funds to construct a border barrier. Defendants moved for an emergency stay of the district court’s injunction.
Under the circumstances, were the defendants entitled to an emergency stay of the injunction?
The Court held that the stay was not warranted because defendants were not likely to succeed on the merits of their appeal where the action was not authorized under Pub. L. No. 115-245, § 8005, 132 Stat. 2981, 2999 (2018) (§ 8005) as the need for the funds was not unforeseen and the funds had been previously denied by Congress. Moreover, because § 8005 did not authorize the reprogramming, use of those funds violated the constitutional requirement that the Executive Branch not spend money absent an appropriation from Congress pursuant to the Appropriations Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 7.