Judges in Hawaii, Maryland block Trump's revised travel ban

By Eric DuVall and Andrew V. Pestano   |   Updated March 16, 2017 at 8:48 AM
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March 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Maryland became the second to block President Donald Trump's revised executive order on immigration on Thursday, one day after a judge in Hawaii issued a wider order.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Maryland suspends a portion of the order preventing visas being issued to nationals of six predominantly Muslim countries.

In his ruling, Chuang said Trump's executive order was "the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban" -- citing Trump's previous speeches on the topic.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked implementation of Trump's revamped executive order to ban U.S. travel for all refugees and immigrants from six countries, calling the measure "fundamentally flawed."

In a speech to supporters in Nashville on Wednesday night, Trump called the Hawaii ruling, and one that struck down his initial effort to halt travel from the countries earlier in the year, "an unprecedented judicial overreach."

The controversial order was set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The Hawaii case was one of three argued before federal judges Wednesday. A judge in Washington state, who halted Trump's first immigration order, also heard oral arguments on the revised version on Wednesday.

Trump said his second order, signed March 6, was a "watered down" version of the first, crafted to withstand the legal challenges that prompted the first order to be struck down last month -- specifically, that it applied a religious test to those seeking to enter the United States.

"A judge has just blocked our executive order on travel and refugees coming into our country from certain countries," Trump said to loud boos from the audience in Nashville. "The order he blocked was a watered down version of the first order that was also blocked by another judge and should have never been blocked to start with. This new order was tailored to the dictates of the 9th Circuit's -- in my opinion -- flawed ruling. This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach."

Trump pledged, as he did after the first travel ban was struck down, to fight the judge's decision in court.

"Believe me," Trump said. "We're going to fight this terrible ruling. We're going to take our case as far is it needs to go, including the Supreme Court."

In the revised order, the Trump administration pointed out that the ban applied to people of all religions in the affected countries, not just Muslims. The administration also argued the order did not create a religious test because the total number of Muslims affected by the ban amounted to about 9 percent of the world population.

Hawaii's Federal District Judge Derrick K. Watson said, though, that explanation did not pass muster.

"The illogic of the government's intentions is palpable," the judge wrote. "The notion that no one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed."

The president's revised order seeks to ban travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days, and temporarily halt all refugee applications for 120 days. Trump has said that the suspensions allow much-needed time to review the nation's immigration and refugee evaluation procedures to ensure potential terrorists aren't allowed to enter the country.

Trump's revised travel ban dropped some of the most controversial elements of the first one. It removed Iraq from the list of nations excluded from immigration after the military said it threatened to sour relations with the country, which is leading efforts to fight the Islamic State in Iraq with the support of a U.S.-led international coalition.

It also dropped language that would have given Christians in affected countries the first opportunity to apply for visas and refugee status -- which further opened the administration to charges of religious discrimination -- and added language to make clear that existing green card and visa holders are exempt, which was a point of confusion during the rollout of the first order.

When the initial order was signed in January, it led to chaotic scenes at some U.S. airports, as families of those traveling from the then-seven prohibited countries were left without answers about when -- or if -- their loved ones would be let into the country.

After a judge in Seattle blocked the first travel ban, Trump assailed the decision -- and the judge, personally -- with attacks on Twitter and promised his administration would fight the ruling on appeal. After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's decision, Trump relented and replaced the executive order with a version the White House believed could stand up to legal challenge.

In his ruling Wednesday, Watson, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Barack Obama in 2013, singled out two top Trump aides who helped craft the travel bans, Rudy Giuliani and Stephen Miller, who each cast doubt on the measure's true intent in media interviews. Giuliani told Fox News that Trump had asked him to help draft a Muslim ban that would stand up in court. Miller told the same network that the revised version would accomplish everything the first order tried to.

During a lengthy court hearing early Wednesday, Watson said he was skeptical their comments -- and those made by Trump during his campaign about keeping Muslims out of the United States -- had no influence on the motives behind the presidential order.

"Are you saying we close our eyes to the sequence of statements before this?" Watson asked government lawyers regarding the administration's intentions.

The suit was brought by Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin, who argued the Pacific state would be adversely affected by Trump's order because it discouraged travel in a state where the economy is heavily reliant on tourism. The Democratic-led state also argued that its university system would be deprived of its ability to recruit top caliber students and faculty from across the world.

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