President Donald Trump was barred from enforcing his revised travel ban on six mostly Muslim nations while he defends it in a court battle that will stretch for months, perhaps years.
While the Trump administration tailored the latest version to shed all religious references, a Honolulu federal judge found that the president’s campaign rhetoric, including calls for a Muslim ban and registry, point toward discriminatory intentions. The Justice Department will probably appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the same court that upheld the order stopping Trump’s original travel order.
The ruling may cause further consternation for an administration struggling to enact some of the president’s central campaign platforms. It’s yet another victory for states, advocacy groups, technology companies and universities that challenged the first executive order and its replacement as being at odds with nation’s founding principles and hurting the economy.
The White House spent weeks crafting its March 6 order after judges rejected the first travel ban, which spurred chaos at airports across the country and a rush to the courthouse by civil rights groups and states led by Democrats.
In his decision Wednesday in Honolulu, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, who ruled on March 15 that the re-worked policy was still flawed, extended his temporary prohibition on enforcing it. He once again pointed to the president’s own statements before the election, such as calling for a “total shutdown” on Muslims entering the U.S.
“The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has,” Watson said in his ruling. “The Supreme Court and this circuit both dictate otherwise, and that is the law this court is bound to follow.”
The revised 90-day ban on approving new visas has also been barred by a federal judge in Maryland, while a Virginia judge declined to do so. The ruling in Maryland has already been challenged by the administration with a hearing set for May 8 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said in court Wednesday that Trump himself strengthened the case for keeping the freeze on the travel restrictions while the two sides fight it out in court. Chin cited the president’s comments at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, within hours of Watson’s earlier restraining order. Trump called the revised policy a “watered-down version” of the first, adding that he still preferred the first.
Those comments belied administration claims that there was no intention to discriminate against Muslims, Chin said.
The “issue of animus has not been cured.” Chin told Watson. “It’s been intensified.”
Chad Readler, the lawyer arguing the case by phone for the Justice Department, told the judge that the revised order eliminated any reference to religion, including a provision that critics said would have favored Christians over Muslims. He said at the very least, the administration should be allowed to enforce the 120-day refugee ban, which wasn’t been blocked by the Maryland judge.
Any harm to Hawaii would be minimal because only 20 of the almost 500,000 refugees who came to the U.S. during the past eight years settled in the state, Readler said.
That argument prompted a rebuke from Watson, who asked why that evidence wasn’t presented earlier. “Is this a mathematical exercise,” Watson asked. “That 20 may not be enough to show standing, but 25 might be or 30 might be?”
The case is State of Hawaii v. Trump, 17-cv-00050, U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii (Honolulu).
—With assistance from Erik Larson
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.