In a rare legal victory for President Donald Trump, a federal judge in Virginia has ruled in favor of the revised executive order on immigration, handing a much-needed boost to the Trump administration as it fends off other legal challenges against the travel ban.
In a 32-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga ruled that plaintiffs — backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations — were unlikely to succeed in their challenge, given that Trump “identified a broad range of conditions, circumstances and conditions that raise ‘facially legitimate and bona fide’ national security bases for the order.”
“In determining whether the plaintiffs have made the required showing, the issue is not whether (the travel ban) is wise, necessary, under- or over-inclusive, or even fair,” Trenga wrote.
Instead, Trenga wrote, the legal question is whether the travel ban “falls within the bounds of the president’s statutory authority or whether the president has exercised that authority in violation of constitutional restraints.”
But Trenga’s ruling will have no immediate effect on the revised order, which was put on hold by rulings issued last week in Hawaii and Maryland.
On Friday, the Trump administration filed a motion opposing the state’s request to turn Watson’s temporary ruling into a preliminary injunction, which will remain in place until the case is resolved.
In their motion, Justice Department lawyers argue that Watson’s ruling should not apply to key parts of the revised order — one provision that suspends refugee resettlements for 120 days, as well as several subsections of another provision that temporarily halts the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.
The plaintiffs “have failed to identify any particularized and judicially cognizable injury to themselves that arises from enforcement of those sections,” the lawyers wrote.
The lawyers also criticize the state for arguing that the same findings that prompted Watson to issue his temporary restraining order should be enough for a preliminary injunction, even if the standards for issuing them are “substantially identical.”
“The mere fact that the court has already entered a (temporary restraining order) does not perforce entitle plaintiffs to a preliminary injunction,” the lawyers wrote. “One of the purposes of holding further proceedings is to revisit and, if appropriate, narrow the scope of emergency relief.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has already appealed the Maryland decision, asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the district court’s preliminary injunction against the travel ban’s 90-day provision.
On Thursday, the 4th Circuit set a schedule to complete the filings on the stay request by April 5.
The Trump administration will likely find ammunition for its appeal in Trenga’s ruling.
The most significant part of Trenga’s ruling is his finding that the revised order is sufficiently different from the original travel ban to reduce “the probative value” of past statements by Trump and his aides that the plaintiffs used to establish “discriminatory intent.”
“It is no longer likely that plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of (the travel ban) is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that (the travel ban) is a pretext or a sham for that purpose,” Trenga wrote.
To rule otherwise, Trenga wrote, would amount to “‘a psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,’ all within the context of extending establishment clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.”
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