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A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday issued a sweeping freeze of President Trump’s new executive order hours before it would have temporarily barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and suspended the admission of new refugees.
In a blistering 43-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims and declared there was a “strong likelihood of success” that those suing would prove the directive violated the Constitution.
Watson declared that “a 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.”
He lambasted the government, in particular, for asserting that because the ban did not apply to all Muslims in the world, it could not be construed as discriminating against Muslims.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”
And Watson declared that the government’s assertion of the national security need for the order was “at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.” He pointed to Trump’s own campaign trail comments and public statements by advisers as evidence.
“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,’ ” Watson wrote. “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.’ ”
Watson also pointed to a recent Fox News appearance by Stephen Miller, in which the president’s senior policy adviser said the new ban would have “mostly minor technical differences” from the previous iteration frozen by the courts, and Americans would see “the same basic policy outcome for the country.”
“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.
Opponents of the ban across the country — including those who had argued against it in different cases on Wednesday — hailed Watson’s ruling.
Bob Ferguson, the Washington state attorney general who asked Robart to block the measure, called the Hawaii ruling “fantastic news.” Justin Cox, a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center who argued for a restraining order in the case in Maryland, said, “This is absolutely a victory and should be celebrated as such, especially because the court held that the plaintiffs, that Hawaii was likely to succeed on its establishment clause claim which essentially is that the primary purpose of the executive order is to discriminate against Muslims.”
Cox said while the judge did not halt the order entirely, he blocked the crucial sections — those halting the issuance of new visas and suspending the refugee program. Left intact, Cox said, were lesser-known provisions, including one that orders Homeland Security and the U.S. attorney general to publicize information about foreign nationals charged with terrorism-related offenses and other crimes. He said the provision seems designed to whip up fear of Muslims.
“It’s a shaming device that it’s really a dehumanizing device,” he said. “It perpetuates this myth, this damaging stereotype of Muslims as terrorists.”