If two federal appellate courts overturn injunctions currently blocking the Trump administration from enforcement of its executive order on travel and refugees, a District Court judge in Washington, D.C., has signaled she’s ready to step in.
District Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote in an order issued Thursday that she believes plaintiffs challenging President Trump’s revised executive order “are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims” and she is prepared to issue a ruling to that effect. But she delayed any ruling in the two cases she is overseeing while the appellate courts consider similar ongoing lawsuits.
“The existence of two other nationwide injunctions temporarily casts uncertainty on the issue of whether the harms Plaintiffs allege are actually imminent or certain,” Judge Chutkan wrote in the two-page order, noting her analysis of the case would be impacted if the injunctions continue. “In the event that both existing injunctions are overturned, this court is prepared to issue a ruling without delay.”
The Washington, D.C., lawsuits were brought by Iranian and Muslim groups who alleged specific harms as a result of Mr. Trump’s lawsuit. The Pars Equality Center and Universal Muslim Association of America filed separate suits to challenge the revised order, arguing however Mr. Trump tries to rewrite his policy, it is tainted by his “malicious” profiling of Muslims and his refusal to recant.
A lawyer representing the challengers called the judge’s decision a second line of defense to prevent the executive order from going into effect.
“Judge Chutkan is seriously troubled by the government’s actions and is ready to step in if any existing injunction is rolled back,” said attorney Cyrus Mehri.
The revised order, issued in March, was a narrower version of an earlier executive order. The second version sought to pause all refugee admissions to the United States, and to temporarily halt new arrivals from six majority-Muslim countries who don’t already have ties to the U.S. Those countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
A full panel of judges from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday heard arguments in the Justice Department’s appeal of ruling from a lower court in Maryland that blocked part of the travel ban from taking effect. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear the DOJ’s appeal on May 15 in a different case out of Hawaii.
When Judge Chutkan, an appointee of President Obama, heard arguments in the two cases in April, she appeared skeptical of whether she should be hearing the challenges at all, given the ongoing litigation in other cases, and ordered both sides to file additional briefs.
Although the judge opted to temporarily stay a resolution in the case, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit saw the decision as a victory.
“This court recognized that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim. In so doing, this court, like many others, has sided with religious liberty and dignity,” said Johnathan Smith, the legal director of Muslim Advocates. “The plaintiffs here have had their most basic rights trampled on by the Trump Administration, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that they receive the justice they deserve.”
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