President Trump’s latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight Muslim majority countries from entering the US suffers a second defeat, as another federal judge rules that the latest policy is unconstitutional. We speak with Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump’s latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight countries from entering the US has suffered a second federal court defeat. On Wednesday, US District Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland ruled Trump’s own words helped convince the judge that the latest policy is, quote, “an inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban” and is likely to be found unconstitutional.
This comes after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked most of the latest version of a travel ban on Tuesday, just hours before it was set to take effect. US District Judge Derrick Watson had previously blocked plans by the administration to ban refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority nations. This week, he ruled the latest ban, quote, “plainly discriminates based on nationality” in violation of the law as well as, quote, “the founding principles of this Nation.”
AMY GOODMAN: The revised ban removed Sudan from the original list and added the countries of Chad and North Korea and some government officials from Venezuela. The new order also includes restrictions on citizens from Iraq, as well as all citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Both the Maryland and Hawaii orders will allow a ban on some North Koreans and Venezuelans to go into effect. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments this month on an earlier version of a travel ban, but canceled the hearing after Trump issued new restrictions. The White House has vowed to appeal the latest ruling.
For more, we’re joined by Baher Azmy, who is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Baher.
BAHER AZMY: Hi, Amy and Nermeen.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what just took place, a Maryland court ruling after the Hawaii judge ruled.
BAHER AZMY: Yes. So, this is the third iteration of the Muslim ban, which attempts to clothe the previous versions, that were just very facially, obviously directed at nationality, with some legal pretense. The previous versions simply banned all individuals from these eight countries. This version had a purportedly neutral rationale — that is, these are countries who insufficiently — share insufficient security information with the United States. But these two courts saw through that rationale and agreed that the threat of discrimination from the first to the second to the third is still intact.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking on Wednesday. He defended this third travel ban of the Trump administration.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: The Department of Justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threats that we face. They are real. The military tells us they can expect not a reduction after ISIS is defeated, but maybe even an increase in attacks. The president’s executive order is an important step to ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. It’s a lawful, necessary order that we are proud to defend. And indeed, most may not know, the Supreme Court has already vacated one court’s injunction against that order. And we are confident we’ll prevail, as time goes by, in the Supreme Court.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking Wednesday in defense of this ban.
BAHER AZMY: Yeah, I mean, it’s as if — imagine Orval Faubus, the segregationist governor of Alabama [sic], bans all black applicants to the University of Arkansas — sorry, Arkansas. And then that gets struck down by the courts, and he next decides to ban all applicants from 10 high schools to the University of Arkansas, nine of them happen to be all-black high schools. No court would accept that as reasonable or nondiscriminatory. And that’s what we have in the case of this latest version of the Muslim ban.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what happens now, with these two federal courts, one in Hawaii — and I couldn’t help think about Hawaii being one of the judges that struck down the ban, because of what Jeff Sessions famously said on a right-wing radio show: “How is it possible that a man on an island in the Pacific can stop the president of the United States?”
BAHER AZMY: Yeah, which speaks to the general insufficient regard that Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration have for democracy and constitutional principles. So, no doubt the government will attempt to appeal these injunctions, but the courts of appeals governing both of these district courts have previously upheld the prior injunctions, so they probably won’t have much success in the court of appeals and will ultimately seek review in the Supreme Court.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But the justification, of course, that the Department of Justice has given is that the countries now listed on the ban are listed because an extensive intelligence-sharing evaluation that the US undertook in all of these different countries concluded that these countries don’t have sufficient restrictions in place, and that’s why the countries were selected, so, in fact, it has nothing to do with Muslims or anybody else.
BAHER AZMY: Yeah, that’s the justification, but I think it speaks to the lack of credibility that this administration has. I mean, had this been enacted by the Bush administration or the Clinton administration, given the traditional deference courts give to executive branch officials in the context of immigration, you’d expect courts would step back. But this is just utterly implausible as a national security justification, given the way it simply reanimates the prior obvious discriminatory actions the government took, and given the sort of lack of a sufficient national security rationale once you scratch below the service. I mean, we already investigate these countries. It’s not like there aren’t national security protocols in place when someone applies for a student visa from Iran. So, it’s simply a reanimation and speaks to the lack of credibility that this administration has in the realm of constitutional law.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another issue, but it deals with refugees, a federal judge on Wednesday ordering the US government to allow an undocumented immigrant teenager in custody in Texas to have an abortion. The judge said she was, quote, “astounded” that the Trump administration was trying to block the procedure. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit on the teenager’s behalf, said the 17-year-old girl, who’s living unaccompanied in a refugee resettlement shelter in Texas, had been granted permission from a judge to terminate her pregnancy, but officials with the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies refused to transport her to a women’s health clinic for an abortion. The Justice Department, which is defending the Health and Human Services Department, has not commented on whether it will appeal the ruling.
BAHER AZMY: Yeah. I mean, this is a remarkable action that the government took, and it reflects kind of three undemocratic strands or reactionary strands of the Trump administration: first, the de facto attempt to block a court order by not allowing this young woman to access what the court authorized her to access, by not letting her out of the jail; second, a deep antipathy to migrants and undocumented migrants or refugees; and third, this sort of reactionary pro-life cast that they want to enforce. They do not want to, in their view, aid and abet one’s constitutional rights. And this is Jeff Sessions at work in all three dimensions.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, before we conclude, Baher, I wanted to ask you about what — because everybody has pointed to the fact that both the Hawaii and the Maryland ruling, the injunctions placed on Trump’s third version of the travel ban, are, number one, partial bans, and that they’re quite distinct from one another. So what are the differences between them? And what do they still allow to go into effect? Is it just that it will apply to citizens of North Korea — officials from Venezuela and citizens of North Korea?
BAHER AZMY: Yeah, I mean, I think — in short, I think they’re far more similar than they are different. Both allow the restrictions to remain in place on North Korea and Venezuela, because those weren’t meaningful restrictions anyway. The Maryland ruling is a bit narrower, because it only protects those who, quote, “have bona fide connections to the United States,” so those with — who are applying for visas to the United States who may have existing connections to the United States. And the Hawaii one applies more broadly to anyone who seeks to enter the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, but of course continue to follow this all. Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.