Bloomberg – Iranian-American groups attempted to deliver another legal blow to President Donald Trump’s efforts to keep refugees and immigrants from six mostly Muslim nations out of the U.S.
Those groups, plus about a dozen people, asked a U.S. judge in Washington Friday to block portions of the president’s March 6 executive order and to add that ruling to previous decisions from Maryland and Hawaii federal courts that put parts of his edict on hold nationwide.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan immediately wanted to know what it was those suing wanted from her. “What are you asking me to enjoin?” the judge asked plaintiffs’ attorney John Freedman when he stepped to the podium, adding later that she didn’t want to grant or deny his clients’ request, “just as an academic exercise.”
Freedman called the presidential decree “inherently discriminatory,” and said Chutkan’s ruling is needed to protect the the rights of his clients.
A win in Washington would likely boost arguments in support of the prior rulings when a federal appeals court considers the Maryland appeal next month, University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said.
“There’s all kinds of reasons to proceed,” he said, explaining that a win gives opponents of the president’s immigration crackdown public and legal momentum and provides reinforcement in the event either the Hawaii or Maryland outcome is overturned. Each of those trial-level courts answer to a different regional federal appeals courts. Divergent appellate outcomes would likely send the cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump’s order was his second attempt to halt for 90 days the issuance of visas to travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, while simultaneously stopping refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days. The prior order, issued Jan. 27, was more broadly written. It was blocked by a San Francisco-based appeals court reviewing a decision in federal court in Seattle.
Attorneys challenging Trump have contended the orders were thinly disguised attempts to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., fulfilling a campaign pledge. Freedman and plaintiffs lawyer Johnathan Smith each cited statements made by the president and his advisers as proof of motive for the order.
Government lawyers have fought to separate those campaign comments from acts taken after the president took office. But that defense has been undercut by the president’s own rhetoric. At a Nashville, Tennessee, rally only hours after the March 15 ruling by a Hawaii judge, Trump called the revised policy a “watered-down version” of the failed first effort, adding that he still preferred the first.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler touted the differences between the first and second executive orders in court, telling Chutkan the revised version was “facially neutral” with regard to religion. He said the measures were necessary national-security precautions and that courts can’t second guess the president’s judgment in protecting the country.
Chutkan, a one-time federal public defender appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014, is the first judge to consider the legality of the president’s decree since U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga in Alexandria denied a request to block it on March 24.
The Washington lawsuit was filed by the Pars Equality Center, a Menlo Park, California-based social and legal-service organization for Iranian-Americans. Among those joining Pars in that case is the Iranian American Bar Association, whose president, attorney Babak Yousefzadeh, was one of two people who testified in support of their bid for an order blocking Trump’s decree, at an April 18 proceeding before Chutkan.
The president’s order, Yousefzadeh said, was preventing Iranian medical students from participating in U.S. programs and depriving Iranian Americans from enjoying the same rights as other Americans, including the ability to be visited by relatives from overseas and have them take part in family occasions.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Smith argued for the Washington-based Universal Muslim Association of America, which had filed a parallel suit.
The cases are Pars Equality Center v. Trump, 17-cv-255, and Universal Muslim Association of America v. Trump, 17-cv-537, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).