A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday issued a sweeping freeze of President Trump’s new executive order hours before it would have temporarily barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and suspended the admission of new refugees.
In a blistering 43-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims and declared there was a “strong likelihood of success” that those suing would prove the directive violated the Constitution.
Watson declared that “a reasonable, objective observer enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion.”
He lambasted the government, in particular, for asserting that because the ban did not apply to all Muslims in the world, it could not be construed as discriminating against Muslims.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”
At a rally in Nashville, Trump called the ruling “terrible” and asked a cheering crowd whether the ruling was “done by a judge for political reasons.” He said the administration would fight the case “as far as it needs to go,” including up to the Supreme Court, and rued that he had been persuaded to sign a “watered-down version” of his first travel ban.
“Let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way,” Trump said. “The danger is clear, the law is clear, the need for my executive order is clear.”
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement: “The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts.”
Watson was one of three federal judges to hear arguments Wednesday about the ban, though he was the first to issue an opinion. Federal judges in Washington state and Maryland said they would issue opinions soon.
As the ruling in Hawaii was being handed down, James L. Robart, the federal judge in Washington state who froze Trump’s first travel ban, was hearing arguments about whether he should freeze the second. He said he did not think his first freeze was still in effect, though he did not immediately rule on whether he should issue a new one.
Watson’s decision might not be the last word. He was considering only a request for a temporary restraining order, and while that required him to assess whether challengers of the ban would ultimately succeed, his ruling is not final on that question. The Justice Department could appeal the ruling or wage a longer-term court battle before the judge in Hawaii.
Watson’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by Hawaii. Lawyers for the state alleged that the new entry ban, much like the old, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it was essentially a Muslim ban, hurt the ability of state businesses and universities to recruit top talent, and damaged the state’s robust tourism industry.
They pointed to the case of Ismail Elshikh, the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, whose mother-in-law’s application for an immigrant visa was still being processed. Under the new executive order, attorneys for Hawaii said, Elshikh feared that his mother-in-law, a Syrian national, would ultimately be banned from entering the United States.