HONOLULU/NEW YORK — In granting the temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit by the state of Hawaii, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson found on Wednesday that “a reasonable, objective observer ... would conclude that the executive order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.”
Early on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a nationwide preliminary injunction in a similar case in Maryland brought by refugee resettlement agencies represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.
Chuang ruled that the agencies were likely to succeed in proving that the travel ban portion of the executive order was intended to be a ban on Muslims and, as a result, violates the U.S. Constitution’s religious freedom protection.
“To avoid sowing seeds of division in our nation, upholding this fundamental constitutional principle at the core of our nation’s identity plainly serves a significant public interest,” Chuang wrote in his ruling.
The actions were the latest legal blow to the administration’s efforts to temporarily ban refugees as well as travelers from six countries that the U.S. State Department has deemed “countries of concern” in the war on terrorism. The president has said the ban is needed for national security.
However, the orders, while a victory for the plaintiffs, are only a first step and the government could ultimately win its underlying case. Watson and Chuang were appointed to the bench by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump, speaking after the Hawaii ruling at a rally in Nashville, Tenn., called his revised executive order a “watered-down version” of his first.
The president said he would take the case “as far as it needs to go,” including to the Supreme Court, in order to get a ruling that the ban is legal.
The likely next stop if the administration decides to contest the Hawaii judge’s ruling would be the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Three judges on the 9th Circuit upheld a restraining order on the first travel ban issued by a Washington state judge.
At that point, the government’s legal options were to ask for a hearing by a larger panel of judges or petition the Supreme Court to hear the case. Instead, the administration withdrew the ban, promising to retool it in ways that would address the legal issues.
If the 9th Circuit were to uphold the Hawaii court’s ruling, an appeal to the Supreme Court would be complicated by its current makeup of four conservative and four liberal judges, with no ninth justice since the death of Antonin Scalia more than a year ago.
The travel ban has deeply divided the country on liberal and conservative lines, and it is unlikely that a ninth Supreme Court justice would be seated in time to hear an appeal in this case.
Trump signed the new ban on March 6 in a bid to overcome legal problems with his January executive order, which caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before a Washington judge stopped its enforcement in February.
Watson’s order is only temporary until the broader arguments in the case can be heard. He set an expedited hearing schedule to determine if his ruling should be extended.
Trump’s first travel order was more sweeping than the second revised order. Like the current one, it barred citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, but it also included Iraq, which was subsequently taken off the list.
The revised ban also excluded legal permanent residents and existing visa holders and provided waivers for various categories of immigrants with ties to the United States.
Hawaii and other opponents of the ban claimed that the motivation behind it was Trump’s campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
In Washington state, a group of plaintiffs applying for immigrant visas asked U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle — who suspended the first ban — to stop the new order. Robart was appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush.
Robart said he would issue a written ruling, but did not specify a time line.