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A Look at Latest Ruling on Trump Administration Travel Ban

  • VOA Staff

FILE - A sign for the Hawaii U.S. federal court stands outside the building in Honolulu on Wednesday morning, March 15, 2107.

A federal judge in Hawaii who temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's revised travel ban hours before it was set to take effect issued a longer-lasting order Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson held a hearing Wednesday on Hawaii's request to extend his temporary hold. Several hours later, he issued a 24-page order blocking the government from suspending new visas for travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and from halting the U.S. refugee program.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin argued that even though the revised ban has more neutral language, the implied intent remains. He likened it to a neon sign flashing "Muslim Ban," which the government hasn't turned off.

Chad Readler, a Department of Justice attorney defending Trump's executive order, told the judge via telephone that Hawaii hasn't shown how it is harmed by the provisions.

Watson disagreed.

Here's a look at Watson's ruling and what comes next:

The previous ruling

This month, Watson prevented the federal government from suspending new visas for people from six countries and freezing the nation's refugee program. The ruling came just hours before the ban was to take effect.

Watson, nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama in 2012, agreed with Hawaii that the ban would hurt the state's tourism-dependent economy and that it discriminates based on nationality and religion.

Trump called the ruling an example of "unprecedented judicial overreach."

The next day, a judge in Maryland blocked the six-nation travel ban but said it wasn't clear that the suspension of the refugee program was similarly motivated by religious bias.

The federal government appealed the Maryland ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and sought to narrow the Hawaii ruling.

The latest ruling

Watson's orders note that Hawaii has shown the state's universities and tourism industry will suffer from the ban. A plaintiff in Hawaii's lawsuit, the imam of a Honolulu mosque, will be harmed if the ban is enforced, Watson said. "These injuries have already occurred and will continue to occur if the Executive Order is implemented and enforced; the injuries are neither contingent nor speculative."

Government attorneys have tried to convince the judge not to consider comments Trump has made about the travel ban. Chin told The Associated Press on Thursday that a notable part of the ruling was that the court took into account not just one or two comments, but 20 to 25 statements made by Trump the candidate, Trump the president and his surrogates.

"The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has," Watson wrote.

Watson also refused to narrow his ruling to only apply to the six-nation ban, as the government requested.

The ruling won't be suspended if the government appeals, Watson said.

"Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this court," he wrote.

What's next for Hawaii’s lawsuit?

Watson's ruling allows the lawsuit to work its way through the courts.

"The next move is theirs," Chin said of the Department of Justice. He said the government would likely file an appeal.

Chin's office said in a statement after the ruling: "We believe the court's well-reasoned decision will be affirmed."

Plaintiff Ismail Elshikh argues that Trump's order prevents his Syrian mother-in-law from visiting family in the U.S. Chin said the mother-in-law was no longer banned and was able to proceed with the visa process.

The Department of Justice issued a statement Thursday saying it strongly disagrees with the ruling. "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," the statement said.

Defending Trump's executive order

The Department of Justice wanted the judge to narrow the ruling to cover only the part of Trump's executive order that suspends new visas for people from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

Other provisions of the order have little or no effect on Hawaii, including a suspension of the nation's refugee program, Readler said Wednesday.

Readler said only a small amount of refugees have been resettled in Hawaii. But Watson questioned that, noting that the government said there have been 20 refugees resettled in Hawaii since 2010.

Other parts of Trump's order allow the government to assess security risks, which don't concern the plaintiffs in Hawaii's lawsuit, Readler said.

The revised order removes references to religion, he said.

Can an appeals court affect the Hawaii ruling?

The president is asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the ruling by the judge in Maryland on hold while it considers the case.

The Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court will hear arguments May 8. If the court sides with the federal government, it would not have a direct effect on the Hawaii ruling, legal experts said.

The Trump administration's best bet for saving the travel ban is to have the case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan law school.

"What a ruling in 4th Circuit in favor of the administration would do is create a split in authority between federal courts in different parts of the country," he said. "Cases with splits in authority are cases the U.S. Supreme Court exists to resolve."

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