Legal Fight Continues In Court Over Trump's Immigration Actions

Feb 6, 2017
Originally published on February 6, 2017 10:50 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin this hour with the legal showdown over President Donald Trump's suspension of the nation's refugee program and travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries. Judges around the country have blocked parts of that executive order, but none went so far as the nationwide ruling issued Friday by Judge James Robart in Seattle. President Trump blasted Robart on Twitter, calling him a so-called judge, while the administration moved quickly to appeal his ruling.

Joining us with the latest is NPR's Joel Rose. And Joel, bring us up to speed on what's happening with this particular lawsuit.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, this challenge was brought initially by Washington state, later joined by Minnesota. And the states won a temporary restraining order late Friday. The White House appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which declined to overturn the lower court judge over the weekend, but it did set a brisk pace for briefings.

The states filed theirs early this morning. They argue that Trump's executive order caused, quote, "chaos" in the nation's immigration system before it was temporarily blocked by the judge in Seattle, and that the appeals court would unleash more chaos if it overturns his ruling. The Department of Justice is set to respond this evening. Spokesman Sean Spicer says the White House is, quote, "very confident," unquote, the administration will prevail in this case. The appeal will be heard by a three-judge panel - two Democratic appointees, one Republican appointee - at the Ninth Circuit. But really this all appears to be headed for the Supreme Court.

SIEGEL: Joel, tell us more about the arguments that the state made against the executive order.

ROSE: Well, Washington state's lawyer argued that Trump's executive order harms the state in a couple of ways. One, it is depriving the state of revenue generated by the immigrants who live and work and visit in Washington state, and two, it caused major travel problems for students and faculty at the state university system, which legally is a part of the state of Washington.

Washington's lawyer also argues that the executive order is unconstitutional because it's intended to discriminate against Muslims. The state's lawyer says there is, quote, "overwhelming evidence," unquote, of that in statements that President Trump himself and his advisers have made both during the election and since his inauguration.

SIEGEL: And how does the Department of Justice respond to the - to all that?

ROSE: Well, first of all, lawyers at the Justice Department deny that this is a ban on Muslims. The executive order doesn't actually include the word Muslim. But it does apply to all people from seven countries. And the Department of Justice argues that the president is on solid legal footing there because the president has wide authority when it comes to immigration and national security.

The executive order explicitly mentions the September 11 attacks as evidence of the need to shore up the country's immigration policies. Judge James Robart in Seattle seemed skeptical about that argument. And here is a clip of Robart asking questions to Department of Justice lawyer Michelle Bennett on Friday. Robart speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES ROBART: How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals for those seven countries since 9/11?

MICHELLE BENNETT: Your honor, I don't have that information. I'm from the Civil Division if that - if that helps get me off the hook any.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBART: Well, let me tell you. The answer to that is none, as best I can tell. So, I mean, you know, you're here arguing on behalf of someone that says we have to protect the United States from these individuals coming from these countries, and there's no support for that.

BENNETT: Your honor, I think the point is that because this is a question of foreign affairs, because this is an area where Congress has delegated authority to the president to make these determinations, it's the president that gets to make the determinations. And the court doesn't have authority to look behind those determinations.

ROSE: In other words, the president has a lot of discretion, they're arguing, and states and courts don't have the authority to block his policies here. It's worth noting that there's another federal judge in Boston who was hearing a similar challenge to the executive order and reached a very different conclusion. In that case, Judge Nathaniel Gorton decided not to extend a temporary restraining order in Massachusetts until he can hear the full case. And in his ruling, Gorton cited the president's broad authority when it comes to national security issues and what the judge called a, quote, "ever more dangerous world." So critics of the ruling by Judge Robart in Seattle say that could turn out to be a big point on appeal.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.