By Franco Ordonez and Anita Kumar
A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's travel ban against citizens from six Muslim-majority nations just hours before it was due to go into effect.
It was the second time a Trump order seeking to temporarily limit U.S. entry from Muslim-majority countries has been blocked by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson made the ruling in a lawsuit in which Hawaii argued that the revised order would harm its Muslim population, its tourism industry and its universities' ability to recruit foreign students.
In his ruling, Watson cited interviews and statements by Trump and his advisers talking about a "Muslim ban" and said Hawaii had met the burden to justify a restraining order by showing that "irreparable injury is likely if the requested relief is not issued" and that the state had "a strong likelihood of success on the merits."
At a rally in Nashville, Tenn., Trump accused the judge of endangering Americans and weakening the country. He warned that such decisions not only hurt him, but future presidents' ability to determine who can enter the country.
"In other words, if he thinks there is danger out there, he or she, whoever is our president, can say 'I'm sorry folks, not now, please we got enough problems,' " Trump said. "We're talking about the safety of our nation. The safety and security of our people."
The Hawaii ruling came as two other federal judges considered similar actions against Trump's executive order. A federal judge in Maryland was expected to rule possibly rule as early as Thursday following a hearing Wednesday morning. The federal judge in Washington state who suspended the first travel ban was hearing arguments in a court session that began at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
The White House was expected to comment after all three rulings. Trump promised to appeal, which could be a precursor for a historic Supreme Court battle.
The ruling is a major setback for the Trump administration, which dedicated some of its top lawyers from the Solicitor General's Office to battling the new challenges to the revised order. Lawyers from the Solicitor General's Office typically argue before the Supreme Court.
Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general who headed the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Immigration under President Barack Obama, said he'd never heard of someone from the Solicitor General's Office arguing a case in a U.S. district court.
"The fact that individuals from the Solicitor General's Office are arguing in district court shows that this travel executive order is the highest litigation priority for the Trump administration right now," Fresco said. "Far above and beyond anything that is happening in the Supreme Court."
Watson intended to set an expedited hearing to determine whether his temporary restraining order should be extended.
Saying it was a matter of the safety of the nation, Trump vowed to fight the ruling as far as needed.
"We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including the Supreme Court," Trump said. "We're going to keep our citizens safe."
Legal analysts such as University of Richmond Law School professor Carl Tobias said the ruling is significant because it keeps in place the earlier nationwide injunction and "finds that the second Executive Order violates the Constitution despite the White House assertion that it does not."
"President Trump and his advisers should think long and hard before trying to impose a travel ban a third time," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University Law School professor. "They may strike out."
Critics cheered the Hawaii judge's ruling halting what they dub a Muslim ban.
"As long as this hateful policy remains, it will continue to be fought in courts while thousands of people and families are trapped in uncertainty," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "This decision against the ban tells us what we already know: this is anti-Muslim bigotry falsely packaged as security. Hatred won't make us safe. The ban must be repealed now."
"This is yet another major blow against the Trump administration and a huge victory for our Constitution," said Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "The United States of America does not discriminate based on religion. Period."
Last week, Trump reissued his executive order limiting travel to the United States by citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The new order addressed at least some of the legal problems that led to the blocking of the original order, including clarifying that it wouldn't apply to permanent U.S. residents and would not give special consideration to Christians. But other problems remained.
Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, which filed an amicus brief in the Hawaii case, said the ban has encouraged discrimination against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.
"People with no connection to the banned countries are being stopped and searched at airports and having their trusted traveler status revoked just for being a Muslim, looking like a Muslim, or having a name that sounds Muslim," Khera said. "These policies and practices are part of a concerted effort by the Trump administration to demonize and marginalize Muslim, Latino and other immigrant communities."
The original order on Jan. 27 banned admissions to the United States for 90 days of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The new order no longer included Iraq after leaders agreed to more vetting conditions but it freezes for 90 days the entry of anyone from the six remaining countries who does not already have a valid visa. It also puts a 120-day moratorium on refugee admissions from other countries.
The White House said other countries could be excluded later if they, too, took proactive vetting steps.
Trump's initial order created chaos at U.S. airports as immigration and customs agents initially blocked the entry of all citizens from the seven countries, including those who had lived in the United States for years.
The release of the second ban ended weeks of haggling between Homeland Security and Justice department officials over whether to revoke the visas of some 60,000 to 100,000 people from the seven countries. Those visas were reinstated after the Seattle judge blocked the initial executive order.
(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau