The Trump administration has not been faring well in the courts, with major legal setbacks stalling important parts of its agenda, particularly on immigration and deregulation. President Trump has blamed liberal judges sitting in the 9th Circuit for the legal defeats, but a Washington Post analysis shows losses have occurred across the country and from judges appointed by both parties, often because of a failure to follow the law governing how changes in policy are made.
Appointing party for judges who have given these rulings
Note: Some cases had multiple judges. Judges who ruled in multiple cases are counted once.
A Washington Post review shows over 60 adverse rulings against the administration. All administrations lose cases, but experts cannot recall so many losses in such a short time.
Many of the cases are in relatively early stages, where judges have determined that plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits and, in some cases, issued orders pending final rulings. Reversals are possible. The U.S. Supreme Court already has reversed early rulings on the president’s travel ban and stayed court orders in cases involving the proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Because there is no master list of cases, The Post gathered data from a variety of sources, including a list kept by the Brookings Institution, newspaper articles and a search of dockets in the federal courts.
Below is a breakdown of cases in which a court has intervened in Trump administration decisions after determining they may violate the law or Constitution.
Citizenship status on the census
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March that the Census Bureau would start asking about citizenship status in the 2020 Census, a question critics and experts say will deter many immigrants from responding and produce an undercount for some congressional districts. Lawsuits brought by dozens of jurisdictions and organizations arguing that Ross acted illegally have been successful so far in at least three courts. Because the census questionnaire must be ready for printing in June, the administration asked the Supreme Court to review the issue before the completion of trials or judgments by appeals courts.
Numerous courts have invalidated rollbacks or delays by the Environmental Protection Agency and other Trump administration agencies of rules promulgated during the administration of President Barack Obama. Among them have been rules on chemical accidents, waste prevention, methane emissions, endangered species, pipelines, oil and gas leases, clean air and clean water. Additional administration degregulatory efforts have been withdrawn after the filing of lawsuits. The main reasons cited by judges in these cases are violations of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which sets out the rules for regulatory change. Courts have found that administration agencies have failed to provide reasoned explanations for their actions and, in some instances, have improperly avoided submitting them for notice and comment as required by the APA.
Transgender military ban
President Trump announced via Twitter on July 26, 2017, a ban on transgender people serving in the military, reversing an Obama administration decision. In response to court rulings saying the ban was probably discriminatory, the Defense Department modified the restrictions, but four courts blocked it, with one being overruled by an appeals court. On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 vote, lifted injunctions while the cases move forward in the lower courts.
Federal funding for ‘sanctuary cities’
Days after his inauguration, Trump signed an executive order that placed immigration-related conditions on federal funding to cities. The action penalized “sanctuary cities” by threatening to withhold grants from jurisdictions that the Justice Department deemed insufficiently cooperative in helping federal authorities detain undocumented immigrants. Many jurisdictions won rulings declaring the conditions were likely to be illegal because they were not authorized by law. Some ruled unconstitutional the law invoked in support of the conditions.
The Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provided temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. In March 2018, the Trump administration canceled DACA, claiming it was legally indefensible, rescinding deportation protection for nearly 700,000 of these immigrants known as “dreamers.” Cities, states, organizations and individuals across the country challenged the rescission. Several judges, though not all, ruled against the Trump administration. Appeals are pending.
Crackdowns on illegal immigration
In addition to the DACA rulings, courts have ruled against elements of the Trump administration’s signature crackdown on illegal immigration, including limiting entry points for asylum seekers, revoking temporary protected status for immigrants from certain countries already living legally in the United States and family separation. At least three courts ruled against the administration’s travel ban applied to certain Muslim-majority countries, which, after being redrafted, was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 26.
States challenged Trump administration regulations that would permit employers to stop covering workers’ birth control under the Affordable Care Act for religious or moral reasons. At least two courts have stepped in to block the regulations. Separately, multiple courts invalidated a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to end grants to 81 programs designed to curb teenage pregnancies.
The administration has taken hits from the courts in a variety of other cases, including Trump’s attempt to de-credential CNN’s Jim Acosta, trim the rights of federal employees, change the rules on predatory lending to students and even Trump’s practice of blocking his critics on Twitter.
About this story
The Washington Post compiled cases in which a court has issued an opinion against a Trump administration policy decision in response to a lawsuit. The data is collected from federal district and appellate courts around the country. Since there is no master list available from a government source and “policy decision” is a subjective concept, but the list may not capture every case.
Originally published March 19, 2019.