Judge blocks Trump's revised travel ban

A federal judge in Hawaii has placed a nationwide block on President Trump’s revised travel order, delivering a major blow to the president's policy just hours before it was set to go into effect.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a President Obama appointee, ruled after a hearing on Wednesday that the plaintiffs, the state of Hawaii and a Muslim leader, showed a "strong" likelihood to succeed in their lawsuit against the ban. They argue that the policy violates the Establishment Clause and proved that "irreparable harm" is likely if temporary relief is not granted.

The temporary restraining order, which will be in place while the judge considers the case, blocks the major components of the travel ban: a temporary suspension of the refugee resettlement program and a block on nationals from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The policy, which Trump argues is necessary to protect national security, was set to go into effect just after midnight.
 
During a rally in Tennessee just after the ruling was issued, Trump vowed to fight the decision. 
 
"We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Trump said. 
 
“We're going to win,” he continued. “The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear."
 
Hawaii became the first state to sue the administration over the new ban issued last week, which was designed to better stand up to legal challenges than the first version. Attorneys for the state sued over Trump’s first order and argued that the revised version was still unconstitutional.
 
The administration made several deliberate changes designed to hold up better in court, such as dropping Iraq from the list of banned nations, scrapping an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, removing language giving preference to religious minorities when the refugee program resumes, and specifically exempting legal U.S. residents and certain visa holders.
 
ADVERTISEMENT

A major crux of Hawaii’s argument is that Trump’s intent behind the executive order is to institute a "Muslim ban," which they say would be a form of religious discrimination. 

The government has denied that the ban targets Muslims specifically because it applies to all individuals from certain countries, an argument Watson called "equally flawed."  
 
"The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable," Watson wrote in the 43-page order. "The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed."

“It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7 percent to 99.8 percent," he wrote. "It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not."

The plaintiffs pointed to comments made by Trump’s own adviser Stephen Miller to argue that both versions of the travel ban are “fundamentally” similar and would have the same impact.

“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court and those will be addressed,” Miller told Fox News last month. “But in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.” 

The administration urged the court not to read into “secret motives” or the “veiled psyche” of policymakers, and said there is a difference between statements made by a candidate and an elected official. 

But Watson vehemently pushed back, saying there is nothing "‘secret' about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order.”

He pointed to Trump’s comments on the campaign trail, top ally Rudy Giuliani’s explanation of the order and a press release titled “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” Watson stated.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees" with the ruling, calling it "flawed both in reasoning and in scope."

"The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts," the DOJ said.

In determining that Hawaii has legal standing to bring the lawsuit, Watson ruled that it demonstrated that the state’s educational institutions and booming tourism industry would suffer as a result of the policy.

The administration had sought to chip away at states’ cases by clarifying that the ban does not apply to legal U.S. residents and those who already hold a valid visa to come to the U.S. The retooled order also offers a lengthy list of examples of who can qualify for a waiver.

In Wisconsin, a federal judge already agreed to issue a narrow, temporary hold to prevent the policy from applying to a Syrian refugee and his family.

The refugee was granted asylum and fled to the U.S. in 2014, but he is working to bring over his wife and daughter, who are still living in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

U.S. District Judge William Conley, an Obama appointee, ruled that the plaintiff’s lawsuit over the new ban shows some likelihood of success based on the merits of the case because his family faces “significant risk of irreparable harm” if they stay in Aleppo. 

Federal judges in Maryland and Washington state also heard arguments on separate lawsuits challenging the travel ban on Wednesday. 

In Seattle, where the first nationwide freeze was placed on Trump’s initial order, a group of states led by Washington was pushing to have the previous restraining order apply to key portions of the revised order.

But U.S. District Judge James Robart, a President George W. Bush appointee, said the orders were substantially different and intended to deny the motion, according to multiple reports.

Asked by The Hill about the judge's ruling, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan confident on tax reform after GOP releases principles McCain's cancer — The congressional peace maker Koch network teaming up with Trump officials for tax-reform event MORE (R-Wis.) said he was confident Trump's travel ban would stand up in court.

"Absolutely I supported it. I think it makes a lot of sense," Ryan said at a news conference Wednesday evening. "We have gotten a lot of intelligence briefings about the lack of vetting standards or the ability to vet from certain countries. I have no doubt that this [the travel ban] will stand."
 
Scott Wong contributed