By Andrew M Harris and Erik Larson
President Donald Trump's order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from the U.S. for 90 days suffered another blow after a Virginia judge ruled it likely violates the rights of state residents.
Monday's ruling that the Trump administration can't enforce the ban in Virginia came days after a San Francisco appeals court refused to lift a nationwide freeze on the president's executive order in a separate suit by Washington and Minnesota.
Earlier Monday, a Seattle federal judge rejected the Justice Department's bid to pause the Washington case. The rulings against the Republican president on both coasts moves the overall issue a step closer to possible Supreme Court review.
"Maximum power does not mean absolute power," U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria said in the decision. "Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress's delegation of powers.'
It's unclear whether the latest rulings will matter, though. Trump said Friday that he may issue an entirely new immigration order to address issues raised in the cases.
The ruling in Virginia is confined to state residents and institutions, and won't apply nationwide as requested by state Attorney General Mark Herring. Still, it bolsters the freeze ordered in the Washington case and multiplies hurdles for Trump in fulfilling a campaign promise to shut U.S. borders to countries with ties to terrorism. Legal challenges to the ban have also been filed in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
The government "has responded with no evidence other than" its executive order to support its immigration and travel restrictions, Brinkema wrote.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas and Herring's press secretary, Michael Kelly, did not immediately reply to emailed requests for comment on the ruling.
Issued without warning Jan. 27, Trump's decree threw U.S. airports into turmoil as people bound for the U.S. learned only upon landing that they couldn't leave arrival terminals. Many were turned back as spontaneous protests erupted outside customs areas in New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas and elsewhere. It was the most consequential act of an administration that wants to minimize America's engagement with the world, roiling global politics in the process.
Herring took the lead on a lawsuit initially filed by two Yemeni brothers who had attempted to visit their father in Michigan. Tareq and Ammar Aziz claimed that customs agents at Dulles International Airport tricked them into leaving the U.S. by telling them falsely they would otherwise be shut out for five years. They dropped out of the case after later being allowed into the country.
The Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Arab-American organizations and attorney generals from 16 more states plus the District of Columbia, filed brief in support of Herring's arguments that the president's order is a "monumental abuse of executive power."
Herring, a first-term Democrat, argued in court papers that the ban harmed the constitutional rights of Virginia's lawful immigrant and non-immigrant residents and disrupted its colleges and universities. The order, he said, was "conceived in bigotry."
There is "overwhelming evidence that the executive order is simply Trump's way of following through on a campaign promise to ban Muslims," Stuart Raphael, Virginia's solicitor general, told the judge in court Feb. 10. "If a law is designed to harm a religion or advance a religion, it is unconstitutional."
Justice Department lawyers countered that Congress has given the president discretion to decide "the entry of any class of aliens" and neither Virginia nor the court can override that power.
"It is the president, not a court or the political actors in a single state, who makes relevant judgments over national security and foreign affairs," the U.S. said in its brief.
The case is Aziz v. Trump, 17-cv-116, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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