President Donald Trumpâ€™s attempt to close Americaâ€™s borders to citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries suffered another blow as judges on both coasts issued rulings that will make it even harder for the administration to rescue the beleaguered plan.
Together, the rulings mean that the administration may now have to start answering questions from state officials about whether Trumpâ€™s Jan. 27 executive order was a veiled attempt to ban Muslims from the U.S. The decisions in cases brought by Washington state and Virginia came just four days after a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled against the administration, moving the entire issue a step closer to possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
â€œI saw this unlawful, unconstitutional, and un-American ban for exactly what it is and Iâ€™m glad the court has, too,â€ Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. â€œWe presented a mountain of evidence showing this was the â€™Muslim banâ€™ that President Trump promised as a candidate, while his administration failed to refute one shred of our evidence or provide any of its own to support its claims.â€
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, issued a scathing 22-page opinion that gave little weight to the administrationâ€™s claim that his order wasnâ€™t an unconstitutional ban on Muslims. The judge highlighted Trumpâ€™s remarks as a candidate and years before that calling for the exclusion of Muslims.
Brinkema ruled that the travel ban canâ€™t be enforced against â€œlawfulâ€ Virginia residents, whether they are at home or abroad, as well as those who attend or are employed by the stateâ€™s colleges and universities. The judge stopped short of freezing the presidentâ€™s order nationwide as a Seattle judge did and Herring sought.
In Seattle, US District Judge James Robart ruled Monday that evidence-gathering can start immediately in the Washington state case, siding with the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson who said he wants to move quickly toward a trial. The two rulings are the latest in a series of setbacks for the administration in the implementation of the executive order. Almost immediately after Trump announced it, a judge in Brooklyn, New York, ordered a halt to deportations of people who made it to the U.S. Judges elsewhere followed with broader orders, and a federal appeals court in San Francisco then temporarily prohibited the U.S. from enforcing the ban nationwide.
The White House said Friday, a day after the appeals court ruling, that the president may issue an entirely new immigration order to address issues raised in the cases. The administration also floated the possibility it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the existing restrictions.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined to comment on Mondayâ€™s rulings.
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Herring, in a late Monday night press teleconference, declined to say what he would do in the event Trump issues a new or revised executive order.
â€œIt is really difficult to predict what the president might do,â€ he said.
Virginiaâ€™s top legal officer also declined to outline what steps his office will take to prepare for a possible trial over the travel ban or say whether he would seek the sworn statements of the president or his advisers.
â€œIt is too early to begin commenting on what that strategy might be,â€ Herring said.