ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
I'm Ari Shapiro with some breaking news this evening. The Supreme Court says President Trump can, for now, start using money from the Pentagon budget to construct portions of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president tapped $2.5 billion from the defense budget for the border wall after Congress denied him the money. That fight had led to a historic shutdown at the beginning of the year. Tonight's decision reverses a lower court ruling to put a freeze on that money while legal action continues. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here in the studio.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: This sounds like a victory for the president. How big a victory is it?
KEITH: It is a victory, as you say, for now. There are legal proceedings that will continue that could stop it eventually or they could ultimately - the government could ultimately win. But for now, construction can begin. Contracting can proceed. The president says it's a very big victory, of course. He weighed in quite quickly on Twitter, saying, wow! Big victory on the wall. United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows southern border wall to proceed - big win for border security and rule of law. The ACLU and the Sierra Club - these are two groups that had sued to stop construction. They say that they are going to ask for a quick review from the Ninth Circuit. The court, though, said that they didn't have proper standing to challenge the transfer of these funds from military - to military construction to building the wall.
SHAPIRO: So the essence of tonight's action by the Supreme Court is that the administration can use this money while the legal battle unfolds. Explain what's at the heart of the legal battle.
KEITH: So the heart of the legal battle is President Trump declared an emergency to be able to take funds that are in other parts of the government and move it to building the border wall that he promised when he was running for president that he said Mexico would pay for. But, clearly, Mexico isn't paying for it. And so he declares this emergency to be able to move funds around from other parts of the government. And the ACLU and Sierra Club - they're arguing, no, you can't do that. Congress explicitly - in this big budget battle that you had right before you declared emergency...
SHAPIRO: It's the role of Congress to control the purse strings, yeah.
KEITH: Yes, it is the role of Congress to control the purse strings. And they're arguing that Congress said you can't have this money.
SHAPIRO: So does this mean that shovels will start digging tomorrow?
KEITH: Oh, not quite - this has been a very slow process. In fact, the government has actually - the Trump administration has had a fair bit of money from Congress to be able to build a wall. And they have built very little thus far. And what they have built has primarily been replacement for a wall that existed already.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Tamara Keith on tonight's Supreme Court action allowing wall construction to go forward while the legal fight plays out.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.