Trump’s travel ban blocked by Maryland judge

US court uses president’s own words as proof the order discriminates against Muslims

Speaking during a rally in Nashville, US president Donald Trump has said that the ruling of a Hawaiian judge, stopping his latest travel ban, makes the US 'look weak'. Video: Reuters

 

Judges in Hawaii and Maryland have blocked Donald Trump’s revised travel ban from taking effect as scheduled, using the US president’s own words as evidence that the order discriminates against Muslims.

The rulings in Hawaii late on Wednesday and in Maryland early on Thursday were victories for civil liberties groups and advocates for immigrants and refugees, who argued that a temporary ban on travel into the US from six predominantly Muslim countries violated the first amendment.

The Trump administration has argued that the ban was intended to protect the US from terrorism.

In Greenbelt, Maryland, US district judge Theodore Chuang - who was appointed by Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama - questioned the legality of the order and called Mr Trump’s own statements about barring Muslims from entering the US “highly relevant” to the case.

The second executive order had removed a preference for religious minorities from the affected countries, as well as addressing other legal concerns surrounding the first ban, which was also blocked in court.

“Despite these changes, the history of [Mr Trump’s] 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,” the judge said.

The initial ban sparked chaos at US airports and widespread criticism across the world when it was signed in January.

It was later blocked by a judge in Washington state, a ruling that was upheld by the 9th US circuit court of appeals.

In Honolulu on Wednesday, US district judge Derrick Watson criticised what he called the “illogic” of the government’s arguments and cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban.

He also noted that while courts should not examine the “veiled psyche” and “secret motives” of government decision-makers, “the remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry”.

Referring to a statement Mr Trump issued as a candidate on the campaign trail, the judge also said: “For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release: ‘Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US.’”

The case for the ban was argued in court by acting US solicitor-general Jeffrey Wall, who said the order “doesn’t say anything about religion. It doesn’t draw any religious distinctions”.

Speaking on Wednesday evening at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, Mr Trump called the ruling in Hawaii an example of “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said his administration would challenge it in the US supreme court.

He also called his new travel ban a watered-down version of the first one, which he said he wished he could implement.

“We’re going to win. We’re going to keep our citizens safe,” the president said.

“The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear.”

Injunction

While the Hawaii order only halts the ban temporarily, Mr Justice Chuang’s ruling in Maryland took the form of a preliminary injunction, which will remain in effect indefinitely as the case is litigated.

Mr Justice Chuang was also the first judge to stop the ban outside the 9th circuit.

“Unless and until the president realises that this is a battle in which he’s going to keep losing and decides to do the right thing and abandon this course, for as long as he’s on it we’ll keep litigating it and I think we’re going to keep winning,” said Omar Jadwat, who argued the case for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Maryland.

Mr Justice Chuang did not block the entire executive order, saying those objecting to the order did not sufficiently develop their argument that a temporary ban on refugees discriminates on the basis of religion.

Plaintiffs in the Maryland case had also sought to stop a portion of the order that would reduce the number of refugees allowed to enter the country this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000.

Justin Cox, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Centre who also argued the Maryland case, said: “This Muslim ban was threatening to either separate or continue to separate families who’ve already been separated for months and years.

“It has real-world consequences and we were obviously very glad to see that Judge Chuang recognised those and rejected the government’s frankly callous argument that our clients have already been waiting and another few months couldn’t possibly be irreparable.”

If the administration appeals against Mr Justice Watson’s decision at the 9th circuit level, the matter would be heard by different judges than the three who ruled on the first ban last month.

That is because the panel of judges assigned to such cases rotates every month, said court spokesman David Madden.

The 9th circuit on Wednesday declined to reconsider the 3-0 decision not to reinstate the original ban.

In a dissent, five judges said they considered that decision incorrect and wanted it vacated.

The hearings in Maryland and Hawaii were two of three held on the issue on Wednesday in federal courts across the US.

US district judge James Robart in Seattle, who blocked the initial travel ban, did not immediately rule on a request from an immigrant rights group to block the revised version.

In all, more than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban.

AP