Two US federal courts blocked President Donald Trump’s second and toned-down executive order temporarily suspending travel from six-Muslim majority countries and the entry of all refugees, saying it could be seen to “disfavour a certain religion”.
The stay issued a day before the executive order was to go into effect was a massive blow to the president, whose first order on this caused worldwide outrage and chaos at airports around the country and abroad as travellers flying into the US were detained for deportation on arrival.
District judge Derrick K Watson of Hawaii state issued the first stay on Wednesday, saying in a 43-page order any “reasonable, objective observer—enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance—would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.”
The second order, by a federal court in Maryland on Thursday, stayed the portion of Trump’s executive order that prevented new visas to be issued to citizens of the six countries on his ban list, saying it was the “realisation of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.”
Trump hit back, calling the Hawaii stay “an unprecedented judicial overreach” and “political”, and promised to challenge it.
“This ruling makes us look weak,” the president told a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday, adding, “We’re going to fight this terrible ruling. We’re going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court.”
Both court orders will have countrywide effect as federal courts in other states continue to consider challenges to the new travel ban that Trump signed into effect on March 6, giving it 10 days before going into effect to take care of issues that caused the last one to come stuck within days of its sudden debut in January.
The new order was less sweeping in scope and nature, with the list of countries whose citizens would be temporarily denied new visas and Green Cards — for 90 days — going from seven to six — it applies to only Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya (Iraq was dropped). The new order did not impact their citizens who already held US visas or Green Cards.
And though the admission of all refugees would be suspended for 120 days as proposed before, those from Syria would not be subjected to an indefinite ban, in a marked change. On resumption, the annual intake would be cut by more than half to 50,000, as also stated in the first order.
The duration of the suspension was meant to be used by relevant federal agencies — the department of homeland security, justice department and the state department to put in place a process of “extreme vetting” to prevent terrorists — whom he has called “bad dudes” — from entering the United States.
Though the administration has fought back against allegations the order — both the first and the second — targeted Muslims, the president himself and his aides have seemed not so convincing.
And it wasn’t missed on the Hawaii judge, who cited this press statement from the Trump campaign after the San Bernardino, California attack in December 2015. “‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States… Nor is there anything ‘secret’ about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order. Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: ‘When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally’.”