By GENE JOHNSON
SEATTLE (AP) — So far, the third time isn’t the charm for President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
As with his previous two attempts to bar travelers from certain predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States, his Travel Ban 3.0 has run into an immediate buzz saw in the courts. Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked it in rulings Tuesday and Wednesday, just before it was due to take effect.
The judges found that Trump’s third travel ban appears impermissibly discriminatory, does not appear to have a legitimate national security purpose and violates U.S. immigration law. And once again, the judges also found that Trump’s own public statements, on Twitter and elsewhere, have only hurt his case.
The rulings surely won’t be the final word on the topic, but here’s a look at what’s happened so far:
WHAT’S IN THIS BAN?
The latest ban was announced last month as cases challenging the previous version awaited action at the Supreme Court. It targeted about 150 million potential travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with some Venezuelan government officials and their families. The Trump administration said the new ban was based on assessments of each country’s security situation and their willingness to share information with the U.S. about travelers.
Unlike the previous temporary bans, this one was designed to be permanent. Critics said that while North Korea and Venezuela are not predominantly Muslim, the ban would affect very few travelers from there, and their inclusion on the list may have been designed to avoid discrimination allegations.
The third travel ban drew challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups and immigrant advocates, as well as several states. The Hawaii ruling came in a case brought by that state, while the Maryland ruling came in cases brought by relatives of travelers who would be blocked; the International Refugee Assistance Project; and organizations that invite scholars and others from the affected countries to participate in conferences.
Once again, the courts failed to accept the administration’s national security rationale. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland wrote that the administration had “not shown that national security cannot be maintained without an unprecedented eight-country travel ban.”
HOW DID THE ADMINISTRATION RESPOND?
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the Hawaii ruling “dangerously flawed” and said it “undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe.” The Justice Department said it will appeal and Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the ban as an important tool to fight terrorism.
It remains unclear whether the administration will go directly to the Supreme Court or seek review first in the federal appeals courts, which have repeatedly ruled against the prior travel bans.
The president could ask the Supreme Court to lift the injunctions pending appeals, which if successful would allow the travel ban to take effect while the courts review its merits, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS
Once again, Trump’s public statements about the travel ban came back to bite him. The courts have previously examined his campaign statements calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. as evidence that his travel ban was designed to discriminate against Muslims rather than protect the nation. His continued tweets and comments gave the judges more evidence this time.
Chuang noted that the government offered positive comments Trump made in a speech about Islam in Saudi Arabia in May as proof that he wasn’t discriminating.
But, the judge wrote, the statement “did not in any way repudiate the President’s prior intention to impose a Muslim ban.” And Chuang seems particularly troubled by Trump’s more recent tweet promoting a discredited story that, during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century, U.S. Gen. John Pershing had Muslims shot with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Trump tweeted. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”
“The only other available public statements not only fail to advance, but instead undermine, the position that the primary purpose of the travel ban now derives from the need to address information-sharing deficiencies,” Chuang wrote.
CHANGING THE GAME?
When it comes to the travel ban, the administration seems to be constantly playing games, said Matt Adams, legal director of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which still has a challenge against the prior ban on hold at U.S. District Court in Seattle.
After the initial travel ban was rolled out without warning early this year, prompting chaos and protests at airports around the country, U.S. District Judge James Robart struck it down. Trump insulted the judge and vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court, but never did. Instead the administration adopted another version of the travel ban, one purported to be more carefully drafted.
Chuang and Watson blocked that version, and federal appeals courts agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually allowed the government to block only those travelers who did not have an existing relationship with people or organizations in the U.S. But the government and Hawaii were still fighting in the courts over how to define that when the administration issued its third version last month, as the temporary ban was set to expire.
“The administration’s playing games. They’re trying to camouflage their anti-Muslim underpinnings, but there’s no way of getting around that,” Adams said. “They keep on giving up after being repeatedly shot down by the lower courts. They don’t have the conviction of their beliefs.”
Sessions called the new ban lawful and necessary and said the Trump administration is “proud to defend it.”