A federal judge in Washington who had been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration reversed course Tuesday and ruled she could not force the State Department to grant visa lottery approvals to would-be immigrants from Iran and Yemen.
The complicated case doesn’t directly challenge President Trump’s travel ban, but it does deliver a rare lower-court legal victory on one aspect of the rules, which have restricted visits and immigration from a number of majority-Muslim nations.
Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled that the government had managed to run out the clock on would-be immigrants from Yemen and Iran, and there is no longer anything she can do to preserve their pathway to immigration.
“There is no longer any meaningful relief this court can provide. Therefore, it must dismiss this case as moot,” she wrote.
The case had been at the nexus of two controversial policies: Mr. Trump’s limits on travel and the diversity visa lottery, which doles out immigration passes based on chance.
The plaintiffs — citizens of Iran and Yemen — managed to win the lottery in fiscal year 2017, meaning their names were picked out of millions of people who entered for some of the 50,000 slots.
But before they had a chance to finish the process Mr. Trump imposed his travel ban, which in its original form denied entry to people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The lottery winners argued their spots should be preserved so they could claim them once the ban expired or was ruled illegal. And for a time, Judge Chutkan sided with them, ordering the government to hold open spots.
But after Mr. Trump released a third — and current — version of the travel ban, the Supreme Court dismissed challenges against the previous versions without ruling on the legality.
Judge Chutkan said that without a final ruling of illegality from the justices, and with the new fiscal year 2018 already begun, she no longer had the power any more to order the State Department to admit people who’d won in the 2017 lottery.
“Given the Supreme Court’s decision to moot the challenges to the Executive Order and its decision not to rule on the legality of the Executive Order, events have ‘outrun the controversy’,” she wrote.
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