On March 24 President Trump’s revised immigration ban which took effect March 16, 2017 (March Order) was found to be enforceable for the first time. U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga in Alexandria, Va., denied an emergency request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) to suspend enforcement of the March Order. Judge Trenga diverged from his counterparts in Hawaii and Maryland who granted temporary restraints against the March Order. On March 15 U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu issued a TRO pending further order of the Court and blocked core provisions of the March Order on the basis that the Order is an unconstitutional establishment of religion and inflicts immediate harm on Hawaii’s economy, education and tourism; this order is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Specifically, Judge Watson blocked the 90-day ban on entry of foreign nationals from the six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia) and the 120-day ban on U.S. entry by all refugees. The next day U.S. District Court Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Greenbelt, Maryland issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the part of the March Order that suspended the issuance of visas to citizens of the six banned countries; Judge Chuang’s decision is on appeal to the Fourth Circuit which will hear arguments on May 8. Judge Chuang and Judge Watson both found that the March Order was intended to discriminate against Muslims. On March 29, Judge Watson converted the TRO into a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking provisions of the March Order indefinitely.
The Virginia lawsuit was brought by Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington and a Muslim activist. Ms. Sarsour relied on Trump’s public remarks and argued that the “long and unbroken stream of anti-Muslim statements made by both candidate Trump and President Trump, as well as his close advisors, which, taken together, makes clear that [Trump’s January and March Orders] are nothing more than subterfuges for religious discrimination against Muslims.” In deciding not to enjoin the March Order, Judge Trenga reasoned that the March Order was “explicitly revised in response to judicial decisions that identified problematic aspects of EO-1 [Trump’s January Order]…” and cited that part of the March Order that “expressly excludes from the suspensions categories of aliens that have prompted judicial concerns and which clarifies or refines the approach to certain other issues or categories of affected aliens.” Judge Trenga found no violation of the Establishment Clause on the grounds that the March Order “clearly has a stated secular purpose: the ‘protect[ion of United States] citizens from terrorist attacks, including those committed by foreign nationals.’” Judge Trenga also concluded that the substantive revisions reflected in the March Order precluded findings that the predominant purpose of the March Order is religious discrimination against Muslims and that the March Order is a pretext for this purpose. Judge Trenga wrote that to proceed otherwise required his “extending [the] Establishment Clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.”
Judge Trenga’s March 24 decision is not immediately appealable; Sansour’s court challenge will proceed and the Administration must answer the complaint. If Judge Trenga dismisses the complaint, an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected and may then be consolidated with the pending appeal of Judge Chuang’s preliminary injunction. Given the increased likelihood of a split in the Circuits, the March Order may ultimately be reviewed by a fully constituted Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Judge Watson’s national injunction remains in effect and the attorneys general for California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have joined Washington in filing another complaint challenging both the January and the March Orders.
If you would like to discuss how the March Executive Order or these court decisions affect your employees and your business, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., Partner in the Firm’s Immigration Law Practice at 973-535-7129 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.