Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg

Trump Moves Travel-Ban Fight to Virginia-Based Appeals Court

  • Justice Department seeks reversal of Maryland judge’s ruling
  • Richmond court seen as less liberal than West Coast option

President Donald Trump is moving his travel ban fight to Virginia.

His administration said Friday it will ask a Richmond-based federal appeals court to overrule the Maryland judge who blocked his executive order imposing restrictions on immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries.

Trump may have a better chance of winning in Richmond than in the San Francisco-based appeals court that would consider an attempt to undo a Hawaii judge’s ruling that also halted enforcement of his directive.

The Richmond-based court isn’t considered to be as liberal as the San Francisco court, which upheld the order blocking Trump’s first travel ban. The Virginia court isn’t as conservative as it used to be, though, following a half-dozen appointments to the court by President Barrack Obama, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

“It used to be the most conservative court in the country. That is no longer true,” Tobias said. Nevertheless, he said of Trump, “I do think he’ll get a fair shot there.”

Revised Order

The president issued his revised order March 6 to try to fix practical and legal problems with the original that resulted in chaos and protests at U.S. airports and ended in court decisions preventing its implementation.

Both the Maryland and Hawaii judges issued their rulings just before the new directive was to take effect on Thursday. Both pointed to remarks by Trump and his advisers suggesting the real motive behind the order was anti-Muslim bias.

The Maryland ruling put on hold Trump’s 90-day ban on visas for people from Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. The Hawaii judge’s ruling was broader, as it also blocked a 120-day hold on admitting refugees from all countries.

The notice of appeal filed on Friday with the federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, was signed by Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall. The Justice Department said in a statement its looking forward to “defending the president’s executive order seeking to protect our nation’s security.”

In a new challenge to the travel ban filed Friday in San Francisco federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a U.S. citizen married to a Syrian man and a graduate student who says he needs to collaborate with an Iranian physicist.

In the Maryland case, brought by refugee rights groups and the ACLU, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction, an order that can be immediately appealed.

“President Trump’s Muslim ban has fared miserably in the courts, and for good reason -- it violates fundamental provisions of our Constitution," ACLU lawyer Omar Jadwat said in a statement. “We look forward to defending this careful and well-reasoned decision in the appeals court.”

Lawyers in the Hawaii case are preparing for a hearing to determine whether U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson will extend his temporary order into a longer-lasting preliminary injunction. Temporary orders can’t normally be appealed, which means the government may have to wait before trying to undo the Hawaii ruling.

Trump’s latest executive order replaced one he issued Jan. 27, which was blocked nationwide days later by a Seattle judge. On Friday, that judge put on hold a request to bar enforcement of the revised policy, citing the Hawaii ruling.

Appeals Process

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco appeals court in February refused to reactivate the original ban. Because both the Hawaii and Maryland judges blocked the revised travel ban nationwide, the government would have to overturn both before the full order can take effect.

The San Francisco appeals court has authority over federal courts in nine western states, including Hawaii and California, the most populous state. The Maryland court answers to the appeals court in Richmond, raising the possibility of differing decisions. A split would set the stage for U.S. Supreme Court to make a final decision.

The cases are State of Hawaii v. Trump, 17-cv-00050, U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii (Honolulu), and International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, 17-0361, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt).

— With assistance by Kartikay Mehrotra, and Dina Bass

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