Crime & Justice

A look at latest ruling on Trump administration travel ban

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin speaks outside federal court in Honolulu on March 29, 2017 after a federal judge extended his order blocking President Donald Trump's travel ban.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin speaks outside federal court in Honolulu on March 29, 2017 after a federal judge extended his order blocking President Donald Trump's travel ban.
Caleb Jones/AP

A U.S. judge in Hawaii is keeping President Donald Trump's travel ban on hold until the state's lawsuit works its way through the courts, the latest defeat for the government after it pushed for a freeze on the nation's refugee program to go forward.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson issued a 24-page order Wednesday extending his temporary order blocking the ban. It came after the Department of Justice argued for a narrower ruling only covering the part of Trump's executive order that suspends new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries.

Government attorney Chad Readler said halting the flow of refugees had no effect on Hawaii and the state has not shown how it is harmed by the ban. Watson disagreed.

The administration says the executive order falls within the president's power to protect national security, while Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin likened the revised ban to a neon sign flashing "Muslim ban" that the government hasn't turned off.

Here's a look at Watson's ruling and what comes next:

The ruling

Watson said Hawaii has shown that the ban will harm the state's universities and tourism industry as well as the imam of a Honolulu mosque, who joined the lawsuit. Ismail Elshikh said the ban would prevent his Syrian mother-in-law from visiting family in the U.S.

"These injuries have already occurred and will continue to occur if the executive order is implemented and enforced; the injuries are neither contingent nor speculative," the judge wrote.

In arguing for the judge to allow the halt on refugees, Readler said Hawaii has a small number and isn't affected by the policy. Watson noted that the government has cited 20 refugees resettled since 2010 and asked, "Is this a mathematical exercise that 20 isn't enough? ... What do I make of that?"

Government attorneys also have tried to convince Watson not to consider Trump's comments about the ban.

"The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has," Watson wrote.

Chin told The Associated Press on Thursday that a notable part of the ruling was that the court took into account 20 to 25 statements made by Trump as a candidate and as president and by his surrogates.

The Department of Justice said it strongly disagrees with the ruling.

What's next for Hawaii's lawsuit?

The ruling will stay in place until the lawsuit is resolved and won't be suspended if the government appeals, Watson said.

"The next move is theirs," Hawaii's attorney general said of the Department of Justice, adding that the government would likely appeal.

The department had argued that other parts of Trump's executive order allow the government to assess security risks, which don't concern the plaintiffs.

"The president's executive order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation's security, and the department will continue to defend this executive order in the courts," the agency said in a statement Thursday.

Can a different case affect the Hawaii ruling?

The president already is appealing a separate case in Maryland. A judge there blocked the six-nation travel ban but said it wasn't clear that the suspension of the refugee program was similarly motivated by religious bias.

The administration wants the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put that ruling on hold while it considers the case. The Richmond, Virginia-based court will hear arguments May 8.

If the court sides with Trump, it would not have a direct effect on the Hawaii ruling, legal experts said.

The Trump administration's best bet for saving the travel ban is to have the case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan law school.

"What a ruling in 4th Circuit in favor of the administration would do is create a split in authority between federal courts in different parts of the country," he said. "Cases with splits in authority are cases the U.S. Supreme Court exists to resolve."


Associated Press writer Bob Lentz in Philadelphia contributed to this report.