USA Politics

Trump's visa ban reversed: Could the judiciary foil his plans?

The judicial branch has reared its head, halting Trump's ban on refugees and other visa holders from seven different Muslim-majority countries.

President Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 3, 2017.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP | Caption

The Department of Homeland Security suspended its implementation on Saturday of a presidential order that had temporarily banned travelers from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the ban.

As a result, DHS stopped instructing airlines to prevent visa-holders from the affected countries from getting on planes bound for the United States, reported the Associated Press. And the State Department announced that it would reinstate visas for some 60,000 people.

The Trump administration is fighting back, filing an emergency stay to try to keep the executive order in effect. And President Trump took to Twitter to blast the decision.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” he tweeted.

The ruling, following several other judges’ decisions with a smaller radius of application, serves up the first major check on Mr. Trump’s power since his inauguration on January 20. And by shading in the limits to the president’s preferred unilateralism, it may resurface questions about which version of Trump will win out when it comes to crafting policy.

As The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass noted in January, the furious pace and loose wording of Trump’s executive orders have left him more exposed to legal challenge than his predecessors, whose orders were dense with legal justification:

The advantage has been the Trump administration’s ability to offer the appearance of fulfilling campaign promises quickly and decisively. The drawback is that huge swaths of his early agenda could be swept aside by the courts or fail to have a significant effect if not supported by later legislation. It is an approach that appears to favor speed and splash over precision and lasting impact, experts say.

“He spoke the game of a very powerful president” during the campaign, says Paul Nolette, a political scientist at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “So it’s not surprising that you have him now in office trying to use all these tools that have built up over time to push policy goals.”

The ruling in Seattle was made by Judge James Robart – who was appointed in 2003 by George W. Bush – in response to a legal challenge mounted by the states of Minnesota and Washington.

Mr. Robart found that the states had demonstrated injury to residents, as well as to public universities and their tax base, stemming from Trump’s order. And he barred the administration from enforcing “any action that prioritizes the refugee claims of certain religious minorities,” according to the New York Times. The judge also cast doubt on the Trump administration’s linking of the ban to the 9/11 attacks, noting that no attacks had been carried out on US soil by citizens of the seven countries contained in the ban.   

Robart’s ruling follows others from federal courts around the country, including one in Brooklyn on Thursday that temporarily blocked deportations of people who had been unexpectedly stopped at airports nationwide. And legal challenges in the states of Hawaii, Virginia, and Massachusetts were also being heard on Friday, notes Reuters.

The challenges were reminiscent of another high-profile federal-court ruling on immigration that came during the Obama presidency, when a Texas judge blocked an executive order that would have granted protections from deportation and work permits for an estimated 4 million undocumented parents of US citizens. That ruling effectively killed the initiative.

The future of Trump’s order remains in doubt, though it seems to have at least temporarily alleviated the confusion of government agencies caught off guard by the directive. Trump’s cabinet received counsel from the Office of Legal Affairs on the order, but did not consult with career employees at the departments of State, Homeland Security, or Justice, reports Buzzfeed.

At least one of the countries affected by Trump’s order saw transit to the United States swell on Saturday, with an Iraqi official telling the AP that outgoing flights to typical stopover destinations were sold out.

Bahr Uloom, an Iraqi legislator, praised the ruling and contrasted it to the Iraqi government's failure to dissuade the Trump administration.

"The US justice system is better than Iraqi diplomacy," he told the AP. "Today we thank the American judiciary."