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Supreme Court demurs on enviro challenge to Southwest border wall

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Supreme Court demurs on enviro challenge to Southwest border wall

  • Paul Ingram/

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a challenge by environmentalists over rule waivers issued by the Trump administration to speed up the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico.

Per their custom, the justices turned down the case without any comment — one of dozens of cases denied certiorari in an order list Monday morning.

Led by the Center for Biological Diversity, four groups petitioned the high court after a federal judge ruled against them last fall.

“We’re disappointed that the Supreme Court won’t consider the Trump administration’s flagrant abuse of the law to fast-track border wall construction,” Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “This administration has made a mockery of the Constitution to build an enormously destructive wall. We’ll continue to fight these illegal waivers and do everything possible to prevent further damage to the beautiful borderlands.”

Homeland Security, an agency that has been led by Acting Secretary Chad Wolf since November, adopted the waivers at issue in 2018 and 2019 to ensure that some 43 federal laws would not interfere with the construction of 145 miles of border walls in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. 

“The consequences of the waivers are profound — both in tangible impacts to the environment and border communities, as well as impacts less tangible but no less destructive to our democracy,” the groups argued in their petition for a writ of certiorari.

Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, called Monday’s outcome “disappointing” but said “the fight continues.”

“Trump administration’s waiver of federal and state law to expedite border wall construction raises serious constitutional issues and those issues deserve to be heard,” Rylander said in a statement Monday.

Tony Eliseuson, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, made similar remarks.

“We are very disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to consider the important constitutional issues raised by our lawsuits which challenge the waiver of dozens of environmental and other laws that will impact thousands of animals, including dozens of endangered and threatened species,” he told Courthouse News.

Another case denied certiorari Monday was a challenge of the government’s plan to resume the federal death penalty after a 17-year freeze.

Attorney General William Barr put the plan in motion last year with his introduction of a lethal-injection protocol that uses the drug pentobarbital.

As a result of the refusal, the executions of four men convicted of murdering children may go forward in the coming weeks. The executions of Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Alfred Bourgeois would be the first uses of the death penalty in federal cases since 2003.

Though a federal judge in Washington initially blocked the Justice Department from carrying out the executions, the D.C. Circuit reversed 2-1 in April.

The Supreme Court did not issue any comment in turning down any of the cases listed in Monday’s order, although Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated they would have heard the death-penalty challenge.

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