On March 15, 2017, Hawaii U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson issued a nationwide temporary restraining order halting implementation of President Trump’s travel ban executive order, which had been set to go into effect the next day. The decision, made in the course of a suit filed against the ban by the state of Hawaii, was one of two decisions handed down by federal judges on the day to block the executive order from taking effect. The revised executive order was issued in an attempt to put Trump’s initial travel ban executive order on more solid legal footing after that order had been injoined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the decision, Watson draws attention to the President’s statements as a candidate calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, as well as statements made by advisors to the President, and determines that those statements suggest that the order’s true intent is religious discrimination. Judge Watson states:
The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the ‘veiled psyche’ and ‘secret motives’ of government decision makers and may not undertake a ‘judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.’ The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release: ‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’
While Justice Department lawyers argued that the purpose of the order related to national security and its intent was secular in nature, Judge Watson concluded that, “These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson wrote.
The government also argued that the limited nature of the order, applying only to visa applicants from six majority-Muslim countries, demonstrated that its intent was non-discriminatory. Judge Watson, however, disagreed, stating: “The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”
In addition, Judge Watson points to interviews with Trump advisors such as one conducted with Senior Advisor Stephen Miller in which Miller states that, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].”
In addition to Judge Watson’s decision, a federal judge in Maryland injoined the order more narrowly, choosing to only halt the portion of the order that suspended the issuance of visas to citizens of the six listed Muslim countries.
President Trump, speaking at a rally later that night, decried the decision as political, and stated that the replacement executive order was a “watered-down” version of the first, ill-equipped to address the danger present. “Let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way,” Trump said. “The danger is clear, the law is clear, the need for my executive order is clear.”
Judge Watson’s decision can be read here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3518059/Read-the-federal-judge-s-ruling-on-Trump-s-new.pdf.