Trump’s revamped travel ban blocked by two judges

Rulings in Hawaii and Maryland impose a nationwide freeze on enforcement of 90-day ban on entry by nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Nashville. Mark Humphrey / AP Photo
The US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Nashville. Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

NEW YORK // A second federal judge thwarted Donald Trump’s signature security policy on Thursday, issuing an injunction against the US president’s revised six-nation travel ban on the day it was to take effect.

Judge Theodore Chuang, sitting in Maryland, issued a nationwide injunction after hearing a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups who argued that Mr Trump’s executive order discriminated against Muslims.

In his ruling, the judge said Mr Trump’s own words suggested the travel ban was an attempt to impose tighter controls on Muslims. Changes made to an earlier version that was struck down did not alter that primary purpose, he said.

“Despite these changes, the history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the second executive order remains the realisation of the long-envisioned Muslim ban,” Judge Chuang wrote.

His decision followed a similar ruling by US district court judge Derrick Watson, sitting in Hawaii, who said Mr Trump’s order was likely to be found unconstitutional even if it did not mention Islam.

Mr Trump must now decide whether to appeal the decisions, rewrite his executive order for a second time, or abandon the ban altogether. After the ruling on Wednesday, issued just six hours before the new ban was to take effect, he pledged to fight all the way to the supreme court.

“This is – in the opinion of many – unprecedented judicial overreach,” Mr Trump said at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.

He accused Judge Watson of acting for political reasons and insisted the US president had ultimate authority to determine who could and could not enter the country.

“We’re talking about the safety of our nation, the safety and security of our people,” he said.

Mr Trump’s first order – which banned the entry of citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen for 90 days and temporarily halted the US refugee programme – survived just a week amid protests and more than 20 legal challenges.

In response, the administration removed Iraq from the list and exempted legal permanent residents and people who had already been issued visas.

Opponents said the revised order still flouted constitutional protections against discrimination based on religion or country of origin.

Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, said he was jubilant.

“Discrimination against six countries is no less in gravity than seven,” he said. “Just because you remove one doesn’t really address the issue of a ban on religion or country of origin.”

But he added that campaigners were preparing for more battles ahead.

“This is not over,” he said. “Knowing Trump and his temper tantrums I think he is going to take this somewhere else.”

Mr Trump’s first attempt to attempt to restrict entry to the US was overturned by a Seattle court, a decision upheld by an appeals court.

The issue was a key component of his election campaign. He promised to ban foreign Muslims from entering the US and warned that terrorists could be arriving by posing as Syrian refugees.

His pledge was watered down after provoking international condemnation.

The Trump administration has insisted the executive order was not a Muslim ban but was essential for protecting the US from terrorism.

However, government lawyers struggled to make the case that nationals of the banned countries constituted a greater risk than those from elsewhere.

Their argument was undermined by a leaked department of homeland security report that concluded citizenship was an “unreliable” indicator of terrorist risk.

Lawyers for Hawaii also argued that the state’s tourism industry and universities were being harmed by the ban. Its small Muslim community, the said, also felt themselves the victims of discrimination.

In his ruling, Judge Watson rejected the government’s position that the ban was religiously neutral.

“The illogic of the government’s contentions is palpable,” he wrote.

His order quoted several interviews and debates in which Mr Trump talked about his plan and the way it evolved out of his idea for a Muslim ban.

During a televised presidential debate in October, he said: “The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into an extreme vetting from certain areas of the world.”

Ultimately, Judge Watson said the revised order had not been changed sufficiently from the original to clear it of the charge of discrimination.

Mark Kende, of the American Constitution Society and professor of law at Drake University, said it was unusual for a judge to take such a bold line.

“It’s a very blunt criticism of the government in the way it uses Mr Trump’s prior statements about Muslims and a Muslim ban,” he said. “Sometimes courts hesitate to use statements made by presidents before they are in office, or even when they are in office but speaking outside court.”

That left the way open to an appeal on grounds that Mr Trump had changed the wording of the order or that campaign rhetoric had no bearing on its motivation, he said.

“A higher court may say ‘we don’t care what political statements were made by Mr Trump outside the courtroom – we want to look at the court record’,” he said.

For now, campaigners are celebrating another victory.

Omar Jadwat, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “The constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: March 16, 2017 04:00 AM

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