Minnesota and Washington Win Again: Court Upholds Freeze on Trump's Immigration Ban

by | February 10, 2017 AT 2:00 PM

By Maura Dolan and Jaweed Kaleem

In a significant setback for the Trump administration's first major attempt to carry out its anti-terrorism agenda, a federal appeals court Thursday refused to reinstate President Donald Trump's executive order barring travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Seattle federal judge's earlier restraining order on the new policy should remain in effect while the judge further examines its legality.

The controversial travel moratorium signed Jan. 27 stirred chaos at airports and protests worldwide as at least 60,000 visas were canceled, including those held by students visiting families abroad and engineers working in the U.S.

The three judges, two Democratic appointees and a Republican appointee, unanimously said the administration had not shown an urgent need to have the order go into effect immediately.

By contrast, they said, the two states that challenged it had shown that some of their residents would be harmed by having their right to travel cut off.

In a ruling that rejected the Trump administration's arguments at almost every turn, the court faulted the federal government for failing to present evidence that the ban was needed for national security.

"The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States," the court said.

The panel also denied the administration's last-gasp request to limit the scope of the legal hold, perhaps making it apply to some but not others.

Trump lost no time in responding to the court's ruling on Twitter: "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!"

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart issued a temporary restraining order last week blocking enforcement of Trump's directive after concluding that a challenge by the states of Washington and Minnesota was likely to succeed.

The Seattle-based judge, appointed by President George W. Bush, also concluded that halting the ban _ at least for a while _ would cause no undue harm to the country.

Administration lawyers have argued that the country could be at risk of a terrorist attack until heightened vetting measures for travelers from the seven identified countries are put into place.

In the first appellate court ruling on the controversial travel ban, the court rejected the Trump administration's argument that the courts lacked the right to review the president's executive order. "There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy," the panel said.

"Indeed, federal courts routinely review the constitutionality of _ and even invalidate _ actions taken by the executive to promote national security, and have done so even in times of conflict," the panel added.

The court said the states were likely to succeed in their due process claim, noting that the due process protections provided under the Constitution apply not only to citizens but to all "aliens" in the country, as well as "certain aliens attempting to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad."

The judges also said they took note of the "serious nature" of the states' claim that the travel ban, because it targets Muslim-majority nations and provides exceptions for members of persecuted religious minorities, constitutes religious discrimination.

"We express no view as to any of the States' other claims," the court said, though it did note that the states had also offered "ample evidence" that reinstatement of the ban would harm their universities and businesses.

"The government lost across the board," said Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. "At almost every stage, the court says to the government, 'You have to persuade us, but you did not.'"

Trump's executive order, issued only seven days after the president took office, placed a 90-day block on admission of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, all of which administration officials say have links to terrorism.

It also included a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions, indefinite suspension of the admission of Syrian refugees and preference for refugees who are members of persecuted religious minorities.

Washington and Minnesota sued Trump, maintaining the order was hurting their businesses and disrupting their public universities.

"No one is above the law, not even the president," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought the lawsuit challenging the executive order for Washington and Minnesota, said in a statement. "The president should withdraw this flawed, rushed and dangerous executive order, which caused chaos across the country."

Muslim groups across the country applauded the appellate court's ruling.

"Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit not only upheld a federal court ruling that placed a temporary nationwide halt to President Trump's Muslim ban, it also upheld long-treasured American values of the rule of law and liberty and equality for all, regardless of religion," Farhana Khera, executive director of the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, which has filed a brief in the case, said in a statement.

But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, tweeted that the court "thumbed nose at Constitution and law and did left-wing politics."

Trump, he said, "tries to protect USA; court protects terrorists."

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian group that filed a brief in support of the travel ban, said the decision "puts our nation in grave danger."

"The fact is that President Trump clearly has the constitutional and statutory authority to issue this order. It is clear: radical Islamic terrorists are at war with America. President Trump's order is a proper and constitutional way to protect America," he said.

The Trump administration can appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has four Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees and may be unable to reach a majority decision. The seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia remains vacant.

Dozens of federal judges around the country have considered other challenges to the travel ban, and an appeals court from another circuit could reach a different conclusion on an appeal.

If the Supreme Court decides not to review the 9th Circuit decision or can't muster a majority vote, the ruling from the San Francisco court will remain in place while Judge Robart further examines its legality.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed he would make the country safer from terrorism by barring Muslims from other countries from entering.

But federal lawyers defending the ban said the seven countries targeted in the executive order were designated not because they were predominantly Muslim but because Congress and the Obama administration had linked them to terrorism.

The Trump administration also argued that the president could not be second-guessed by the courts on his executive action because as a matter of law he has authority over foreign relations and national security.

(Staff writers Kurtis Lee, Matt Pearce and Nina Agrawal contributed to this report.)

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times