A federal judge in Maryland early Wednesday issued a second halt on the latest version of President Trump's entry ban, asserting that the president's own comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter convinced him that the directive was akin to an unconstitutional ban on Muslims.
U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang issued a somewhat-less-complete halt on the ban than his counterpart in Hawaii did a day earlier. Chuang blocked the administration only from enforcing the directive on those with a "bona fide" relationship with a person or entity in the United States, such as family members or some type of professional or other engagement in the United States.
But in some ways, Chuang's ruling was more personally cutting to Trump, as he said the president's own words cast his latest attempt to impose an entry blockade as the "inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban."
Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants' Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and represented those suing in Maryland over the ban, said: "Like the two versions before it, President Trump's latest travel ban is still a Muslim ban at its core. And like the two before it, this one is going down to defeat in the courts."
The third iteration of Trump's ban on U.S. entry by certain foreign nationals had been set to go fully into effect early Wednesday, barring various types of travelers who are citizens of Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. Even before Chuang's ruling, though, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the ban — at least temporarily — for all of the countries except North Korea and Venezuela.
That judge, Derrick K. Watson, prohibited the administration from applying the measure to any citizen of the six countries, not just those with a "bona fide" U.S. tie. But his ruling did not address whether Trump's intent in imposing the directive was to discriminate against Muslims. He said the president had merely exceeded the authority Congress had given him in immigration law.
The Justice Department already had vowed to appeal Watson's ruling, which the White House said "undercuts the President's efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States." Both Watson's temporary restraining order and Chuang's preliminary injunction are also interim measures, meant to maintain the status quo as the parties continue to argue the case.
The administration had cast the new measure as necessary for national security and as a step that was taken only after officials conducted an extensive review of the information they needed to vet those proposing to come to the United States. Those countries that were either unwilling or unable to produce such information even after negotiations, officials have said, were included on the banned list.
"These restrictions are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our Nation," the White House said in a statement after Watson's ruling.
Like Watson's order, Chuang's 91-page ruling also found that Trump had exceeded his authority under immigration law, but only to a degree.
Trump's order — which has "no specified end date and no requirement of renewal" — violated a nondiscrimination provision in the law in that it blocked entry to the United States on the basis of nationality, Chuang wrote.
But Chuang said he could not determine, as Watson did, that Trump had violated a different part of federal immigration law requiring him to find that entry of certain nonimmigrant travelers would be "detrimental" to U.S. interests before blocking them.
Chuang instead based much of his ruling on his assessment that Trump intended to ban people of the Islamic faith, and thus his order had run afoul of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution. When Trump was a presidential candidate in December 2015, Chuang wrote, he had promised a "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," and all of his comments since then seemed to indicate his various entry bans were meant to fulfill that promise.
After his second ban was blocked, Chuang wrote, Trump described the measure as a "watered down version" of his initial order, adding, "we ought go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place." The president had then revoked and replaced his first travel ban, which had also been held up in court.
In August, with courts still weighing the second version, Chuang noted that Trump "endorsed what appears to be an apocryphal story involving General John J. Pershing and a purported massacre of Muslims with bullets dipped in a pig's blood, advising people to 'study what General Pershing . . . did to terrorists when caught.' "
In September, as authorities worked on a new directive, Trump wrote on Twitter that "the travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!"
Chuang had pressed challengers at a hearing this week on what the government would have to do to make the new ban legal, and he noted in his ruling that the new directive had changed from the previous iterations. The government, for example, had undertaken a review process before issuing the new measure and had added two non-majority-Muslim countries to the banning list.
But Chuang wrote that he was unconvinced that government officials had simply relied on the results of their review and instead believed they made "certain subjective determinations that resulted in a disproportionate impact on majority-Muslim nations." He wrote that the government offered "no evidence, even in the form of classified information submitted to the Court, showing an intelligence-based terrorism threat justifying a ban on entire nationalities," and he asserted that even the new measure "generally resembles President Trump's earlier description of the Muslim ban."
"The 'initial' announcement of the Muslim ban, offered repeatedly and explicitly through President Trump's own statements, forcefully and persuasively expressed his purpose in unequivocal terms," Chuang wrote.
The suits in federal court in Maryland had been brought by 23 people and seven organizations that said they would be harmed by the new ban.