A three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s order blocking the Trump administration from enforcing its immigration and refugee order, handing the president his highest-profile defeat yet over the controversial ban.
In an unsigned opinion, the panel decisively rejected the Justice Department’s arguments against the restraining order. “We hold that the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury, and we therefore deny its emergency motion for a stay,” the three judges wrote in their 29-page decision.
President Trump responded to the ruling with a cryptic, two-line message on Twitter.
SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
Bringing the lawsuit were the Democratic attorneys-general of Washington state and Minnesota. In their brief, the two officials claimed the executive order would hurt both states’ economies and tax bases by disrupting the ability of their noncitizen immigrants to travel. They also argued the order violated the First Amendment’s religious-freedom protections and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection guarantee by targeting Muslims.
Those claims were strongly contested by the Justice Department, which defended the order as a proper use of the president’s broad authority on immigration. The Trump administration frequently pointed to a section of the U.S. Code that authorizes the president to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants” if he deems their entry “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The administration also cited the traditionally wide latitude given by the courts to the president and Congress to craft and enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
But the judges declined to exercise that discretion, citing past judicial interventions into national-security matters. “In short, although courts owe considerable deference to the President’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action,” the panel concluded.
Judge James Robart, who was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2004, issued the temporary restraining order on Friday to block the ban’s enforcement nationwide pending further hearings. Robart is one of several federal judges who has blocked parts of the executive order since its announcement on January 27. But his temporary injunction was the most sweeping one yet issued by a judge, effectively negating the order’s core functions. The following day, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security said they would abide by the judge’s order and roll back their enforcement of the ban.
That drew criticism from Trump, who railed against the legitimacy of Robart who issued the ban in a series of posts on Twitter last weekend. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump wrote on Saturday. He continued that criticism throughout the week, complaining that the courts were “so political” and claiming that even a “bad high school student” would rule in his favor. The remarks drew an unusual rebuke from federal judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, who called them “disheartening” and bad for the federal judiciary’s morale.
Thursday’s ruling is not the end of the legal saga. The Trump administration’s next move would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Court deadlocks in a 4-4 vote on whether or not to uphold Robart’s temporary restraining order, the Ninth Circuit’s decision will stand. Both parties will also return to the federal district court in Seattle, where Robart will next consider a full injunction against enforcing the executive order for the duration of the trial.