Federal Judge Halts Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban
A legal victory, at least for now, for opponents of Donald Trump's ban on immigration from seven majority Muslim nations.
Late yesterday, a Federal Judge in Seattle issued an order that at least temporarily halts the most important provisions of President Obama’s Executive Order regarding travel to or from seven majority Muslim countries:
A federal judge in Seattle on Friday temporarily blocked President Trump’s week-old immigration order from being enforced nationwide, reopening America’s door to visa holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries and dealing the administration a humbling defeat.
The White House vowed late Friday to fight what it called an “outrageous” ruling, saying it would seek an emergency halt to the judge’s order as soon as possible and restore the president’s “lawful and appropriate order.”
“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the White House said. A revised statement released later omitted the word “outrageous.”
And early Saturday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted in defense of his stand.
Courts around the country have halted aspects of Mr. Trump’s temporary ban on travel from the seven countries, but the Seattle ruling was the most far-reaching to date.
Airlines that had been stopping travelers from boarding planes to the United States were told by the government in a conference call Friday night to begin allowing them to fly, according to a person familiar with the call but who declined to be identified because it was a private discussion. The Trump administration, however, could again block the travelers if it were to win an emergency stay.
The federal government was “arguing that we have to protect the U.S. from individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that,” said the judge, James Robart of Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington, an appointee of President George W. Bush, in a decision delivered from the bench.
The judge’s ruling was temporary, putting Mr. Trump’s policy on hold at least until the government and opponents of the order had a chance to make full arguments, or until the administration won a stay.
“What we’re seeing here is the courts standing up to the unconstitutional ban that President Trump imposed,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the A.C.L.U. “There’s obviously more litigation to come, but this is truly good news for the many people both in this country and abroad who have been unfairly targeted on the basis of their religion by this ban.”
It is not unusual for district courts to issue nationwide injunctions blocking executive actions, and the federal government must obey such injunctions even when other district courts have declined to issue injunctions in similar cases.
Judge Robart temporarily barred the administration from enforcing two parts of Mr. Trump’s order: its 90-day suspension of entry into the United States of people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — and its limits on accepting refugees, including “any action that prioritizes the refugee claims of certain religious minorities.”
The order had suspended admissions of any refugees for 120 days, and of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The goal, the president said, was to evaluate the process for vetting refugees and other immigrants in order to safeguard the country against terrorism.
The order said that when immigration from the seven countries resumed, persecuted religious minorities would be given preference, and in an interview the day of the signing, Mr. Trump said the United States would give Christians from those countries priority because they had suffered “more so than others.”
Judge Robart made clear that his order applied nationwide, citing a similar nationwide injunction from a federal district court in Texas that had blocked President Barack Obama’s plan to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally work in the United States.
Earlier in the day, on the other side of the country, a Federal District Court Judge in Massachusetts issued an opinion that reached the opposite conclusion of Judge Robart:
Shortly before the Seattle ruling, a different federal judge, Nathaniel M. Gorton in Boston, ruled in favor of the government by declining to extend a temporary halt to the order in that jurisdiction.
Judge Gorton, who was appointed to the bench by the first President George Bush, said that while the nation’s immigration history was a source of great pride and that the plaintiffs in that case — Iranian nationals who are academics — had compelling stories, “the public interest in safety and security in this ever more dangerous world is strong as well.”
But that ruling was soon rendered moot, at least for now, by the Seattle ruling.
The administration has been criticized for issuing its order without any warning to refugees and visa holders who were on their way to the United States. Some arrived at airports for flights and were turned away.
The president’s order allowed for exceptions in the “national interest,” but lawyers for some travelers had described getting one as a Kafkaesque exercise, with the State Department’s website warning that no emergency applications would be heard, and Customs and Border Protection agents at United States airports all but unreachable because their clients were not being allowed to board planes.
“It’s quite clear it was not all that thought out,” Judge Leonie Brinkema of Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., said in yet another court hearing held Friday. “As a result there has been chaos.”
Protests over the policy continued on Friday, including a large group that gathered in a parking lot of Kennedy International Airport in New York for the Friday Prayer.
One big question surrounded the number of people who were affected by the travel ban.
Besides barring refugees and other visa holders from the seven countries from entering the United States, the administration also revoked, at least temporarily, all visas from the seven countries, including those for people currently living in the United States. The revocations, which were not publicly announced but were revealed during court proceedings, meant that anyone who lost their visa would be unable to re-enter the United States if they left.
In the Virginia courtroom, spectators gasped when a lawyer for the government told Judge Brinkema, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, that more than 100,000 visas had been revoked as part of President Trump’s order. A State Department official later contradicted that number, saying that it mistakenly included diplomatic visas that were untouched by the ban as well as expired visas.
The true figure was “fewer than 60,000,” said William Cocks, a spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
As noted above, President Trump was up early responding to the Court on Twitter with some of the same contempt for the judiciary that he exhibited when he attacked the Judge presiding over the class actions against Trump University during the Presidential campaign:]
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
Trump’s response is, of course, entirely unsurprising and entirely disrespectful toward a sitting member of a co-equal branch of government who was appointed by President George W. Bush who was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In another era, an attack by a sitting President on the legitimacy of a Federal Judge who ruled against him would be shocking and something that caused major headlines. In the Trump Era, it’s just business as usual from a man who regularly attacks people who disagree with him and who now sits at the top of the Federal Government. To say that we’ve fallen very far very fast is an understatement. it comes after the Department of Justice announced last night that it intends to appeal Judge Robart’s decision, although it does not appear that anything has been filed as of yet so it is unclear if we’ll get any ruling on a potential stay against the District Court’s Order before Monday or later in the week. In the meantime, the United States and American air carriers are operating as if the
Trump’s rant against Judge Robart comes after the Department of Justice announced last night that it intends to appeal Judge Robart’s decision, although it does not appear that anything has been filed as of yet so it is unclear if we’ll get any ruling on a potential stay against the District Court’s Order before Monday or later in the week. In the meantime, the United States Government and American air carriers are operating as if the status quo prior to the issuance of Trump’s is back in effect. This means that people overseas with visas and Green Cards who were barred from traveling are now free to come to the United States and that those similarly situated who are in the U.S. are free to go home. The problem that both groups face, of course, is that there could be stay issued against this order pending final resolution and appeal and that they could end up being trapped wherever they are at the time. Indeed, it’s possible that the situation could change while the people to whom this order applies are in transit and that they could end up landing only to find that they can’t go anywhere, not unlike the plot of the 2004 Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. For this reason, it’s likely that this issue will move as rapidly as possible through the Court system.
From here, the case goes to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which happens to be one of the more liberal-leaning Circuits in the country. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s guaranteed that Judge Robart’s ruling will be upheld, though. For one thing, as demonstrated by the fact that a Federal Judge in Massachusetts reached the opposite conclusion from Judge Robart on the same day indicates, this is by no means a slam-dunk case for the Plaintiffs and a losing case for the government. Both Federal law and the Constitution grant the President broad authority to control immigration in cases where he believes that doing so would be in the national interest. The question in this case is whether this is what the President’s Executive Order has done, or whether the order goes too far in barring all immigration from a select group of nations for even a short period of time while at the same ignoring the fact that other nations not included in the order have been a far more common source of terrorist attacks in the United States than those covered by the ban. This is especially true given the case that the law does not include travelers from nations such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom have been the actual homes of terrorist who have attacked the United States dating back to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Additionally, there is the fact that Trump long intended his ban to be a ban on the immigration of the adherants of a specific religion, something that seems clearly prohibited by both existing law and the Constitution. How the Ninth Circuit decides this issue is likely to have nationwide implications since the current makeup of the Supreme Court makes it likely that we’ll end up with a 4-4 tie that lets the decision of the Ninth Circuit stand.
As they say, stay tuned.
Here’s Judge Robart’s opinion:
And, by way of contrast, here’s the opinion of Judge Nathaniel Hawthrone denying a different Plaintiff’s request for a TRO: