Two federal judges have struck blows against President Trump's travel ban against people from six Muslim-majority countries, just hours before the ban was scheduled to take effect.
On Wednesday evening, US District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii issued a ruling granting a temporary restraining order on the ban, and finding that "a reasonable, objective observer ... would conclude that the executive order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion."
On Thursday morning, he was joined by fellow US District Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland, who granted a preliminary injunction in a similar lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Immigration Law Center. Judge Chuang ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in proving that the order was intended as a ban on Muslims, and therefore would violate First Amendment protections against religious discrimination.
Both rulings have resulted in a temporary halt on the ban, though Mr. Trump has vowed to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court to get the ban reinstated.
"We're going to win. We're going to keep our citizens safe," the president said at a rally in Nashville. "The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear."
The new ban was supposed to address legal problems associated with the previous executive order, which was blocked last month by US District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle. The first version of the ban sparked protests around many of the nation's airports, with demonstrators describing it as a "Muslim ban" based on Trump's campaign promise to "ban all Muslims" from the United States. More than half a dozen states are now involved in efforts to halt the ban.
The new order "eliminated a lot of issues that allowed prior parties to [sue], and in my opinion they eliminated one of the constitutional problems with the prior executive order," Sarah Pierce, an analyst in the US Immigration Program at the Migration Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit think tank in Washington, told The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday.
Much narrower than the first order, the revised ban excludes legal permanent residents and travelers who already hold visas, as well as travelers from Iraq. Syrian refugees are included in the overall 120-day suspension of all refugee admissions, whereas the first version indefinitely suspended their admission. And a provision giving priority to refugees belonging to "a minority religion" in their home country, which Trump had described as help for Christians, was removed.
"[The new ban] doesn't say anything about religion. It doesn't draw any religious distinctions," lawyer Jeffrey Wall said, arguing for the Justice Department in Maryland.
In Hawaii, Judge Watson noted that courts should not examine "secret motives" of government officials, but said the intention of Trump's executive order was clear, citing "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus" behind the ban.
"For instance, there is nothing 'veiled' about this press release: 'Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,' " Watson wrote, referring to a statement Trump issued on the campaign trail.
Proponents of the ban say that the new order is needed to boost national security. But a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security, cited in Watson's ruling, found that national origin is an "unlikely indicator" that a person poses a terrorist threat to the United States.
"The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump's disgraceful and discriminatory ban," ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued for the case in Maryland on Wednesday, told CNN. "We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect."
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.