A federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of the Trump administration Friday, declining to join other federal courts that halted the President’s revised travel ban last week.
Two federal judges — one in Maryland and one in Hawaii — have blocked implementation of the core provisions of the travel ban, and it remains on hold nationwide. Drawing on a litany of then-candidate Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims during the presidential campaign, both of the judges concluded that the new executive order likely violates the establishment clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.
But Virginia-based US District Judge Anthony Trenga was not persuaded that Trump’s past statements automatically mean the revised executive order is unlawful, especially given the changes it made from the first version.
“This court is no longer faced with a facially discriminatory order coupled with contemporaneous statements suggesting discriminatory intent,” Trenga explained. “And while the President and his advisers have continued to make statements following the issuance of EO-1 (the first executive order) that have characterized or anticipated the nature of EO-2 (the revised ban) the court cannot conclude for the purposes of the motion that these statements, together with the President’s past statements, have effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority.”
The practical effect of Trenga’s decision is limited at this point because the travel ban is already frozen nationwide, but it adds another judicial voice in support of the legality of the executive order as it makes its way through further proceedings in federal appellate courts.
“The substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose,” Trenga added.
The Justice Department championed the news.
“As the court correctly explains, the President’s executive order falls well within his authority to safeguard the nation’s security,” said department spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores.
The lawsuit in Virginia was brought by a cohort of US citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals who claimed the revised executive order was discriminatory.
“Thankfully, this decision does not alter the injunctions that are already preventing the implementation of the Trump administration’s illegal executive order. We look forward to the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court weighing in on this matter, as those are the bodies that will ultimately decide whether the Constitution will protect the rights of Muslim Americans,” plaintiffs’ attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a statement to CNN.
The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers appeals from district courts in Virginia, is set to hear the Justice Department’s challenge to the Maryland court’s decision in May.