A federal judge in Honolulu declined Thursday to second-guess how the Trump administration is implementing the scaled-back version of the travel ban.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson leaves intact the temporary rules put in place last week by the Trump administration, which exempted only spouses, siblings, children and parents, as well as certain in-laws, from the travel ban.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson U.S. District Court

Watson’s ruling was a blow to Hawaii, which had argued that the Trump administration’s decision to subject grandparents and other relatives to the travel ban — which applies to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, as well as refugees worldwide — was “preposterous” — and against the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a June 26 opinion, the Supreme Court allowed portions of the travel ban to go into effect but instructed the Trump administration to exempt “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

In a motion filed Monday, the Trump administration defended its decision, saying “close familial relationships” that merit the exemption should be limited to those specifically described in certain portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Watson didn’t weigh in on the substance of the parties’ arguments in his ruling; instead, he concluded that Hawaii should seek a clarification from the Supreme Court itself.

“Upon careful consideration of the parties’ submissions, it is evident that the parties quarrel over the meaning and intent of words and phrases authored not by this court but by the Supreme Court in its June 26, 2017, per curiam decision,” Watson, who blocked the travel ban hours before it went into effect in March, wrote. “Accordingly, the clarification to the modifications that the parties seek should be more appropriately sought in the Supreme Court.

“This court declines to usurp the prerogative of the Supreme Court to interpret its own order and defers in the first instance,” Watson wrote.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin issued a statement, saying the state is not giving up.

“The key takeaway from Judge Watson’s order is that he declined to address the specific merits of our request to clarify the scope of the injunction of the travel and refugee bans,” Chin said. “The scope of the travel and refugee bans badly needs to be resolved and not just according to the Trump administration’s interpretation.

“While we understand Judge Watson’s direction to address our request to the United States Supreme Court, we must evaluate that against the normal course of order as it relates to appeals and the clarification of injunctions. Whatever course it takes, we will get this resolved,” Chin said.

Ismail Elshikh, the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, was a co-plaintiff in the latest lawsuit. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

You can read Watson’s ruling here:

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