As President Trump weathered his first two weeks in office, a surprising number of roadblocks to his agenda cropped up from another Washington, more than 2,500 miles away.
On Jan. 27, Trump signed orders not only to suspend admission of all refugees into the United States for 120 days but also to implement “new vetting measures” to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists.” Refugee entry from Syria, however, would be suspended indefinitely, and all travel by citizens of Syria and six other nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — would be suspended for 90 days. Trump also said he would give priority to Christian refugees over those of other religions, according to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The ban triggered massive protests at airports around the country, including at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. On the afternoon of Jan. 28, Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, and several other elected officials blasted the hastily implemented travel ban in a news conference held at the airport, before thousands descended upon it in protest.
“The manifest and unjustifiable chaos and cruelty caused by President Trump's executive order is now on full display at Sea-Tac,” Inslee said. “It is religious discrimination in its barest and [most] obvious form. … It clearly is religiously discriminatory when the president himself said: We're going to say Muslims are at the bottom of the barrel, other religions are at the top.”
The ban had touched a personal nerve, said Inslee, a resident of Bainbridge Island, just off the coast of Seattle. He recounted how in 1942 the U.S. government corralled citizens of Japanese ancestry and sent them to internment camps; those on Bainbridge Island were the first to be ordered to leave.
“Listen, I've seen this movie,” he said. “I know from Bainbridge Island what fear can do, and I know that Americans need to stand up against this today, across America.”
The Seattle Times quoted Inslee espousing a less polished review of the new White House administration that afternoon: “These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral,” Inslee said, according to the paper. “It is a train wreck. It can’t stand. We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac.”
Inslee's comments were echoed not only by Democratic leaders around the country, but by his colleagues in the state.
“WA is sending a message,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tweeted.
Within two days, however, the state's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, had followed the lawmakers' fiery talk with a decisive legal walk: On Jan. 30, Washington became the first state to challenge Trump's executive order, filing a lawsuit in federal court alleging that key portions of the order were unconstitutional.
In his motion for a temporary restraining order, Ferguson argued that the order violated the Constitution's equal protection clause and establishment clause, as well as due process.
“In short, the Order is illegal, is causing and will continue to cause irreparable harm in Washington, and is contrary to the public interest,” Ferguson wrote. “The Court should fulfill its constitutional role as a check on executive abuse and temporarily bar enforcement of the Order nationwide.”
Much has been made of California's opposition to Trump — the popular vote tally, talks of “Calexit” after his election — but it should come as little surprise that Washington would emerge as a strong foil to the presidency as well. Though it is not one of the six states with both a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, it is still a decisively left-leaning state, where Hillary Clinton garnered 54.3 percent of the vote in last year's general election compared with Trump's 38.1 percent.
Washington's largest city, Seattle, is a “sanctuary city” whose mayor has vowed to protect undocumented residents, even asking the city to rework budgets in anticipation of the loss of federal funds, according to the Associated Press. “This city will not be bullied by this administration,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told the AP.
In the wake of the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the Seattle-based company would hire 10,000 refugees over five years in 75 countries. Schultz, a longtime critic of Trump, also reiterated his support for “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children; for “building bridges, not walls” with Mexico; and for providing affordable health care for Starbucks employees.
“We will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new Administration’s actions grows with each passing day,” Schultz wrote.
But perhaps more notably, the greater Seattle area is also home to several tech companies that have shown firm support for the Washington attorney general's lawsuit against Trump's executive order. A Microsoft spokesman said the company was providing whatever information it could to Ferguson's office and would “be happy to testify further if needed,” according to Reuters.
Two other Washington state-based businesses, Amazon.com and Expedia, also threw their weight behind the lawsuit. Expedia said it “has and will continue to incur increased business costs to research and understand which of its customers may be impacted by the Executive Order and to assist those customers in making alternative travel arrangements.”
In a legal declaration, an Amazon senior manager noted that 49 of its employees were born in one of the countries identified in the executive order. (Jeffrey P. Bezos is the chief executive of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.)
“One example of an impacted employee is a senior Amazon lawyer who was born in Libya but has been a UK citizen for many years,” the Amazon declaration stated. “This employee had plans to travel to the United States for business during the month of February. We have instructed the employee to cancel her plans and remain in the UK rather than risk being denied entry to the United States.”
In addition, Amazon had put on hold seven new hires because, despite being citizens of other countries, they were born in Iran, the declaration stated.
Over the past week, Ferguson and his team worked around the clock, he told CNN's Anderson Cooper, gathering and compiling such testimony and building out its legal case. On Thursday, Ferguson filed an amended complaint with the state of Minnesota, along with declarations from several Washington companies and organizations that outlined the “detrimental” effect the ban would have on their operations.
The concerted effort and sleepless nights paid off. On Friday night, a federal judge in Seattle granted the temporary restraining order, blocking nationwide enforcement of Trump's ban on entry to the United States. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wrote that “fundamental” to the court’s work was “a vigilant recognition that it is but one of three equal branches of our federal government.”
“The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government,” wrote Robart, who had been nominated by George W. Bush in 2004.
Ferguson was thrilled.
“As a lawyer, it's why you go to law school, right? To do something that benefits the people you serve and that upholds the rule of law and the Constitution,” Ferguson told Cooper on Friday. “So, to say it was the best day of my professional life would be an understatement.”
“This is a tremendous victory for the State of Washington,” Inslee said in a statement Friday. “Thank you to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his team for making the case that no person — not even the president — is above the law.”
He vowed the state would continue “fighting on the right side of history.”
It is unclear what lies ahead. Early Sunday morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied a request by the Justice Department to dissolve Robart’s order.
A Justice Department spokesman said government lawyers would “let the appeals process play out” rather than ask the Supreme Court for an immediate stay. As The Washington Post reported, that option would have had an uncertain outcome, given the high court's current status.
While the losing side can request intervention from the Supreme Court, it would take the votes of five justices to overturn the panel decision. The court has been shorthanded since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago, and it is ideologically divided between four liberal and four conservative members.The issue could reach the high court in days — or weeks.
For now, as Ferguson told reporters Friday, Robart's decision stands.
“I want to repeat that. It puts a stop to it immediately, nationwide,” Ferguson said. He added that the decision was made with the law in mind, and he was certain the president would not like it. (Trump, in fact, made Robart the target of a presidential Twitter tirade that would persist into the president's Trump's weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago.)
“But it is his job, it is his responsibility, it is his obligation as our president to honor it,” Ferguson said of Trump. “And I'll make sure he does.”