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A U.S. judge in Hawaii denied the state’s request for clarification on the Trump administration’s temporary travel ban and said the matter should be taken up with the Supreme Court.
The decision Thursday by U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu means the restrictions on entry for visa applicants from six mostly Muslim nations and refugees worldwide that were imposed June 30 will probably remain in place until the Supreme Court revisits the dispute in October.
Hawaii claimed the government violated instructions from the nation’s highest court in defining who’s covered by the ban and who’s excluded when the nine justices partially revived Trump’s executive order last week.
The Justice Department argued that it followed the Supreme Court’s June 26 order and relied on the Immigration and Nationality Act to determine that people covered by the ban won’t be allowed into the U.S. unless members of their nuclear families are already living there.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin had argued that the State Department’s interpretation of close family ties was too narrow in excluding grandparents and grandchildren, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Watson said only the Supreme Court can clarify what it meant when it said the government must continue to allow entry for people with “bona fide” relationships to the U.S.
“The scope of the travel and refugee bans badly needs to be resolved and not just according to the Trump administration’s interpretation,” Chin said in a statement Thursday after the ruling. “While we understand Judge Watson’s direction to address our request to the U.S. Supreme Court, we must evaluate that against the normal course of order as it relates to appeals and the clarification of injunctions. Whatever course it takes, we will get this resolved.”
A representative of the Justice Department said they are pleased with the District Court’s decision. “If the plaintiffs elect to proceed, we are confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will again vindicate the president and his constitutional duty to protect the national security of the U.S.”
“It is evident that the parties quarrel over the meaning and intent of words and phrases authored not by this court, but by the Supreme Court,” the judge said in his order.
The Supreme Court said last month it will hear the administration’s appeal of lower-court orders blocking the ban in its next nine-month session starting in October. Meanwhile, the court allowed the restrictions to take effect, with caveats, five months after the initial lawsuits challenging the president’s order.
Because of the temporary nature of the 90-day ban, however, it’s not clear exactly what will be left for the justices to decide in October. One possibility is that Trump could issue a new executive order once officials complete their review of vetting procedures for immigrants.
When the high court issued its June 26 order, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have let the entire ban take effect immediately. Thomas warned that the definition of bona fide relationships would open the door to a “flood of litigation” as U.S. customs and border officials wrestle with whether travelers from the six countries have sufficient ties.
Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, said Thursday Hawaii may ask for the intermediate court of appeals in San Francisco to clarify the scope of the ban rather than go directly to the Supreme Court.
“This type of line drawing is beneath the Supreme Court,” he said in an interview before the ruling came out. “They don’t want to be part of this sort of nitpicking. It’s not a constitutional issue.”
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.