USA First Look

After Seattle judge denies DOJ request in travel ban suit, what next?

A lawsuit by Washington state and Minnesota challenging President Donald Trump's travel ban will proceed as an appellate court considers a preliminary injunction in the case, a federal judge said Monday in Seattle.

James Robart listening to a case at Seattle Courthouse in Seattle in 2013. A lawsuit by Washington state and Minnesota challenging President Donald Trump's travel ban will proceed as an appellate court considers a preliminary injunction in the case, Robart said Monday in Seattle.
United States Courts/AP/File
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A federal judge in Seattle said Monday that a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s travel ban shall move forward, denying a Justice Department request to hold back proceedings while an appellate court weighs in.

“I’m not prepared to slow down,” said US District Judge James Robart, who previously issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban. “There is a very sensitive time issue.”

Mr. Robart instead instructed both sides to prepare arguments on whether the temporary restraining order should be more permanent.

Robart’s ruling is another blow to the Trump administration and its case that the ban, which suspends the nation’s refugee program and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, is necessary for national security. Now, it’s unclear if a larger appellate panel or the Supreme Court will take up the case.

The Justice Department had requested that courtroom proceedings in Seattle be suspended while the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to hear the case. A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit had upheld Robart’s order last week, but judges on the appeals court are voting on whether the case should be reheard before an 11-judge panel, known as an en banc review.    

Michelle Bennett, a Justice Department lawyer, told Robart there was no basis for speeding up the trial, arguing states are not being harmed because there’s a temporary injunction in place.

But lawyers for Washington state and Minnesota, which sued the Trump administration over the ban, said the reasons the Trump administration said the ban is necessary compel it to move ahead.

"Given the gravity of the states' constitutional allegations, defendants' stated national security concerns and the public interests at stake, the states respectfully submit that discovery should proceed without delay," the state lawyers said in a legal brief.

Robart said he was “surprised” to hear the Justice Department ask for a delay in light of Mr. Trump’s tweet after the Ninth Circuit court’s ruling: “See you in court.”

Trump has called the executive order he signed on Jan. 27, suspending travel from the seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, a national security measure meant to prevent attacks by Islamist militants. But Washington state and Minnesota challenged the constitutionality of the order, saying the ban illegally targets Muslims.

Robart sided with the two states on Feb. 3, suspending key parts of Trump’s order. While a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this order, an unidentified judge on Friday called for a vote by all of the court’s 25 judges on whether the case should be reheard before an en banc review.

If a majority of the appellate court’s active judges vote to rehear the case, the 11-judge panel would be made up of the circuit’s chief judge and 10 judges chosen at random, according to The New York Times. The Ninth Circuit has 25 active judges, 18 of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents.

On Monday, the Justice Department said in a brief it would continue to defend Trump’s travel ban, but did not say whether it would appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.

The Trump administration could also be mounting a challenge by rewriting the executive order. Following the Ninth Circuit’s decision last week, Trump announced the possibility of a “brand new order,” but gave no further details. But a congressional aide familiar with the matter told Reuters last week the president might rewrite the order to explicitly exclude green card holders, or permanent residents. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.