Accepting the Trump Administration’s argument that its revised order limiting immigration has cured any legal defects in the original version, a federal trial judge in Virginia on Friday became the first in the nation to reject a challenge to the order as it now stands.
U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of Alexandria, VA, ruled that President Trump and his aides made enough changes in the restrictions to overcome any suggestion that the policy continues to be an anti-Muslim ban. He thus ruled that a group of individual Muslims who challenged the revised order had failed to show that it was legally invalid and thus could not be enforced.
In a 32-page opinion, he noted that statements by the president and others in connection with the original executive order “allowed the inference that the President’s purpose…was to impose burdens wholesale on people who subscribe to the Muslim faith — a ‘Muslim ban.’ ” But, given the changes made in the revised order, the judge said, those statements do not “fatally infect” the policy as it now exists.
The president, he concluded, has not been “disqualified…from exercising his lawful presidential authority” under federal immigration law” to limit who can enter the country from abroad. As a result, the judge added, the challengers could not prove that the policy is now a form of discrimination against Muslims based on their religion.
The ruling rejected all of the constitutional and federal immigration law arguments made against the revised order while accepting nearly all of the government’s arguments in defense of the restrictions.
The only point made by Administration lawyers that the judge rejected was that he had to look only at the specific terms of the revised order and could not go outside of it to consider the statements about potential religious motives for the policy. In the end, though, those statements were not counted by the judge as undermining the government’s defense.
Although Judge Trenga’s decision would have allowed the Administration to begin enforcing the revised order, that cannot happen because two other judges — in Maryland and Hawaii — have issued nationwide orders against key parts of the Trump executive order as issued on March 6.
The case before the Virginia judge was filed on behalf of individual Muslims by an advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That group’s leaders said they would appeal the new ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
That Circuit Court already has pending before it the Trump Administration’s appeal of the order against enforcement that was issued last week by the trial judge in Maryland.
On Friday evening, the Administration’s lawyers asked the Circuit Court to put on hold the Maryland ruling while the appeal unfolds. That filing argued that U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang of Greenbelt, MD, did not have the authority to include President Trump personally in the nationwide ban on enforcing the 90-day suspension of entry of foreign nationals of six Mideast nations.
Judge Chuang, the filing added, also went too far in making his order apply nationwide. At most, it should only apply to three individuals who had joined in that lawsuit who had claimed that the presidential order wrongly barred their overseas family members from getting visas to travel to the U.S.
Even if the Circuit Court were to block all of the Maryland decision, or part of it, the government would still not be legally free to enforce the suspension of travelers from the listed Mideast nations because that part of the Trump order has been blocked nationwide by a judge in Hawaii — a ruling that the government is also likely to appeal.
Aside from the document asking the Circuit Court to postpone the Chuang ruling, government lawyers also filed a 70-page brief laying out, in full, its legal defense of the 90-day suspension policy.