A federal district judge in Maryland on Thursday blocked a key part of President Donald Trump's retooled executive order that suspended travel from six majority-Muslim countries.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang said the court order, which blocks the provision of Trump's travel ban that called for a halt to immigration from the six countries, applies nationally. The court order does not include a ruling on other parts of the travel ban.
The judge's ruling followed a wider order issued Wednesday in a Hawaii federal court, where a judge also blocked the suspension of immigration from the countries as well as the president's attempt to pause and cap refugee resettlement.
The two rulings effectively halted the most significant parts of the president's revised travel order and set him up for higher court fights on opposite ends of the nation, in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
They are not permanent but are meant to stop the travel ban while longer court proceedings determine its constitutionality.
In his 43-page opinion in the Maryland case, which was brought on behalf of immigrants from Syria, Somalia and Iran whose spouses and families are in the middle of the visa approval process, Chuang wrote that it was "likely" that Trump's ban violated the Constitution by discriminating against Muslims.
Arguing the case Wednesday, lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center said that the new order — which was supposed to go into effect nationwide Thursday — would prevent family reunification and discriminate on the basis of religion.
Chuang, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, wrote that there were "strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban."
The judge heavily quoted Trump's statements on the campaign trial — where he promised to suspend Muslim immigration — and after his election win, as well as statements by the Trump campaign and White House associates on the travel ban's purpose. Chuang suggested that Trump may have intended to discriminate against Muslims.
The decisions in Maryland and Hawaii marked back-to-back blows for the Trump administration, which had already suffered a major defeat last month when a Seattle judge issued a national halt to the first travel ban.
Trump had said his revised order, issued March 6, would be "tailored" to survive legal concerns about from "bad" courts.
Yet, speaking at a Nashville, Tenn., rally after the Hawaii decision, Trump said he thought "we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way." He described the new order as a "watered-down" version of the prior one.
At the rally, Trump also called the Hawaii ruling "terrible," saying it "makes us look weak." He said it was an "unprecedented judicial overreach" and vowed to "take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court."
The original order, signed Jan. 27, spurred tens of thousands of visa cancellations, chaos at U.S. international airports and dozens of lawsuits.
That order stopped refugee resettlement from all countries for 120 days — and from Syria indefinitely — and banned citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days while the government was to review its vetting procedures.
A federal judge in Seattle halted that order in February after hearing arguments that it was discriminatory against Muslims and negatively impacted Washington state's universities, businesses and residents. His decision was upheld by a motions panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The new order tried to address court concerns by removing a preference for refugees who are religious minorities and giving exemptions from the ban to green card holders and those who already have valid visas. It also removed Iraq from the list of countries whose nationals could not travel to the U.S.
But the retooling was not enough to pass court muster.
The Hawaii case, brought by state Attorney General Douglas Chin, argued that the latest travel ban would have "profound" and "detrimental" effects on residents, businesses and universities. The state said the executive order discriminates against Muslims and violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Constitution. Lawyers for the state also argued that the order illegally discriminates based upon nationality.
Arguing in court Wednesday, Hawaii lawyers cited the example of Ismail Elshikh, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii. His mother-in-law is a national of Syria and would be barred from seeing her son-in-law.
In his 43-page order, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, an Obama nominee, wrote that despite the ban's "stated secular purpose," Trump's own words acted against him by marking the travel order as a fulfillment of the president's campaign promise to temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the U.S.
"The illogic of the government's contention 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."
Government lawyers have argued that the travel restrictions did not amount to a Muslim ban, as opponents have said, since they only would apply to a fraction of the world's Muslim population. They said in the Hawaii and Maryland court hearing that Trump was acting within his powers to restrict immigration and protect the country from potential terrorists.
The Department of Justice pushed back against the Hawaii court late Wednesday.
"The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court's ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope," it said in a statement. "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 Hawaii and Maryland hearings were among four court proceedings Wednesday in which the travel ban was challenged. There also two hearings in Seattle. One was brought on behalf of immigrants whose families are in the visa approval process and from some of the six countries designated Trump's travel order. Another was brought by Washington state, which had won the most significant court order against the first travel ban.
On Wednesday, Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart — who ruled against the first travel ban — declined the state's request to extend his restraining order against the first ban to apply to the new order.
Robart said the two orders were too different to be treated the same but said he would allow the state and several others that have joined it to file an amended complaint in its case to challenge the new travel order.