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In another legal setback for the Trump administration, a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, has issued a preliminary injunction against the president’s attempt to suspend refugee resettlements and temporarily bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
In a scathing 22-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Virginia was likely to succeed on the merits of its lawsuit, noting that the Trump administration produced little evidence to defend the travel ban.
Even so, Brinkema stopped short of blocking Trump’s order nationwide, applying her decision only to Virginia residents.
Meanwhile, a similar lawsuit filed by Hawaii remains suspended, pending the fate of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge James Robart, a federal judge in Seattle, that put Trump’s order on hold nationwide.
But U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson partially lifted his stay on Hawaii’s lawsuit on Monday, allowing the state to file an amended complaint to add Ismail Elshikh, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, as a plaintiff.
According to the amended complaint, the mother-in-law of Elshikh is a Syrian citizen, and Trump’s order will prevent her from visiting Elshikh’s family in Hawaii.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin also inserted another claim in the amended complaint, alleging that Trump’s order violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from “substantially burdening the exercise of religion.”
“Freedom of religion is one of the most important rights and values for citizens in this country, no matter what religion that is. The additional claim in our complaint protects that right,” Chin said in a statement.
The preliminary injunction issued Monday in Virginia will remain in place until Brinkema holds a trial to fully consider the constitutionality of Trump’s order.
At this stage, Virginia appears to have an upper hand: In her decision, Brinkema wrote that the state was likely to prevail in its argument that Trump’s order violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another.
“The ‘Muslim Ban’ was a centerpiece of the president’s campaign for months, and the press release calling for it was still available on his website as of the day this memorandum opinion is being entered,” Brinkema wrote.
Brinkema also noted that the Trump administration offered “no evidence other than” Trump’s order itself to argue that the courts should not second-guess the president’s national security decisions.
Brinkema flatly rejected the argument.
“Maximum power does not mean absolute power,” Brinkema wrote. “Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.”
The decision echoed the opinion of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose three-judge panel ruled unanimously Thursday to uphold the temporary restraining order issued in Seattle.
“Although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action,” the judges wrote.
The White House has said Trump is mulling whether to issue a new executive order to address the issues raised in the lawsuits. The Trump administration could also appeal the 9th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court — or ask the full 9th Circuit to intervene.