Federal judge in Hawaii blocks new travel ban nationwide; Trump vows to pursue his case ‘all the way’

A federal judge in Hawaii has blocked the major provisions of President Trump’s revised ban on refugee resettlement and travel from six predominantly Muslim countries, hours before the executive order was to take effect.

The decision struck down, at least temporarily, the Trump administration’s attempt to pause all refugee resettlement for 120 days and block citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson said his ruling applies nationwide. It appears to set the stage for a battle in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which last month upheld a ruling blocking Trump’s original travel ban.

» UPDATE: Federal judge in Maryland blocks Trump’s revised travel ban

The new order tried to address court concerns by removing a preference for refugees who are religious minorities and giving exemptions from the ban to green-card holders and those who already have valid visas.

It also removed Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens would be barred. Iraq, as a U.S. partner in the fight against Islamic State, took deep offense to a blanket ban against its citizens. The Trump administration says it had reviewed vetting procedures in Iraq and was satisfied with them.

Legal experts had predicted the new travel ban would be tougher to fight in court because of the president’s broad authority over immigration enforcement and national security when it comes to noncitizens and those without visas.

UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky described the new order as “certainly better drafted than the prior version” but said courts could find it to run “afoul of the 1965 Immigration Act, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin.”

“Based on prior statements of President Trump that Christians would be allowed in, this still can be challenged as a Muslim ban,” he said. “Put simply, it corrects some of the problems courts found with the prior executive order, but many of the serious problems remain.”

Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec, a Justice Department official in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, said that although he disagreed with the new travel rules, they were “clearly more defensible” than the prior ones and “should have survived review in the District Court in Hawaii.”

“The revised order was a conscientious effort to meet the objections of the 9th Circuit,” he said.

“The revised order is not drawn along religious lines; it is irrational to view it as a Muslim ban.”

Arguments in court Wednesday centered on the federal government’s argument that the order is a matter of national security, questions about the potential harm it could cause, and who has legal standing to sue.

The Maryland lawsuit — filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project on behalf of immigrants from Syria, Somalia and Iran whose spouses and families are in the middle of the visa approval process — argued that the new order would prevent family reunification and discriminate on the basis of religion.

During nearly two hours of arguments, Chuang closely questioned both sides, pushing the government to explain how the reworked measure would address previous legal challenges and the plaintiffs to explain when a court can step into a matter of national security.

“The government says the executive order is to protect the public,” he said. “On what basis can I overrule that?”

By Thursday morning, the judge had issued his opinion, which said there were “strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban.” Chuang, an Obama nominee, suggested that Trump may have intended to discriminate against Muslims.

The plaintiffs in one of the Seattle cases are immigrants from Somalia and Syria whose family members have pending visa applications. Their suit pointed to campaign statements by Trump — such as his vow to suspend any Muslims from entering the U.S. — as evidence that the ban was intended to target Muslims.

In the other Seattle case heard Wednesday, the plaintiff was Washington state and the judge was James Robart.

He is the same judge who on Feb. 3 ordered a national halt to the first travel ban in a case brought by Washington and Minnesota.

On Wednesday, he declined the states’ request to extend his restraining order against the first ban to apply to the new order.

Robart said the two orders were too different to be treated the same but said he would allow the state and several others that have joined it to file an amended complaint in its case to challenge the new travel order

jaweed.kaleem@latimes.com

Times staff writer Laura King in Greenbelt, Md., and special correspondent Rick Anderson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

March 16, 8:15 a.m.: This article has been updated with information on the decision in the Maryland case.

7:55 p.m.: This article was updated to include reaction to the court decision and background on the legal battles over the travel ban.

This article was originally published at 5:10 p.m. March 15.

latimes.com