Hours before President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was to take effect, the first of several challenges to the executive order began March 15 in a Maryland courtroom, where attorneys told a federal judge that the measure still discriminates against Muslims.
More than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban that targets people from six predominantly Muslim countries. Hearings were also scheduled for March 15 in Washington state and Hawaii.
Omar Jadwat of the ACLU (left), and Justin Cox (right) of the National Immigration Law Center, representing all the plaintiffs, speaks to reporters outside the court in Greenbelt, Md., Wednesday, March 15, 2017. A federal judge in Maryland says he will issue a ruling in a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In Maryland, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang — who was appointed by former President Barack Obama — said he would try to rule before the end of the day, but he made no promises that his ruling would apply nationwide or address the executive order in its entirety.
Government attorneys argued that the ban, which was to go into effect just after midnight, was revised substantially to address legal concerns, including the removal of an exemption for religious minorities from the affected countries.
“It doesn’t say anything about religion. It doesn’t draw any religious distinctions,” said Jeffrey Wall, who argued for the Justice Department.
Attorneys for the ACLU and other groups said that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail and statements from his advisers since he took office make clear that the intent of the ban is to ban Muslims. Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller has said the revised order was designed to have “the same basic policy outcome” as the first.
The new version of the ban details more of a national security rationale. It is narrower and eases some concerns about violating the due-process rights of travelers.
It applies only to new visas from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen and temporarily shuts down the U.S. refugee program. It does not apply to travelers who already have visas.
“Generally, courts defer on national security to the government,” Chuang said. “Do I need to conclude that the national security purpose is a sham and false?”
In response, ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat pointed to Miller’s statement and said the government had put out misleading and contradictory information about whether banning travel from six specific countries would make the nation safer.
The Maryland lawsuit also argues that it’s against federal law for the Trump administration to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000. Attorneys argued that if that aspect of the ban takes effect, 60,000 people would be stranded in war-torn countries with nowhere else to go.
Hawaii will argue that the new order will harm its Muslim population, tourism and foreign students. Ismail Elshikh, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the ban will prevent his Syrian mother-in-law from visiting.
The federal government will argue that the allegations are pure speculation. Justice Department lawyers also say the president is authorized to restrict or suspend entry into the United States.
In Washington state, U.S. District Judge James Robart — who halted the original ban last month — will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which is making arguments similar to the ACLU’s in the Maryland case.
Robart also is overseeing the legal challenge brought by Washington state. Attorney General Bob Ferguson argues that the new order harms residents, universities and businesses, especially tech companies such as Washington state-based Microsoft and Amazon, which rely on foreign workers. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have joined the claim.
Washington and Hawaii say the order also violates the First Amendment, which bars the government from favoring or disfavoring any religion. On that point, they say, the new ban is no different than the old.
The states’ First Amendment claim has not been resolved. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the original ban but did not rule on the discrimination claim.
Some legal scholars have said the order does not apply to all Muslims or even all predominantly Muslim nations — a point 9th Circuit Judge Richard Clifton made during arguments in Washington’s case.