Federal judge blocks Va. enforcement of Trump travel ban

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has granted Virginia a preliminary injunction, blocking enforcement of President Donald Trump’s travel ban but stopping short of the Commonwealth’s request for a nationwide ruling. 

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In a 22-page ruling Monday night, Judge Leonie Brinkema, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said lawyers for Trump had provided no evidence supporting the restriction of travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Trump’s lawyers had maintained his executive order was necessary to protect the United States from terrorist attacks to be carried out by nationals of the seven affected countries.

“However, they have not offered any evidence to identify the national security concerns that allegedly prompted this EO (executive order), or even described the process by which the president concluded that this action was necessary,” Brinkema wrote.

While Trump’s attorneys had said he was privy to national security information that only the country’s president would have, Brinkema’s ruling said courts regularly receive classified information under seal and maintain its confidentiality.

However, Brinkema rejected Virginia’s request for a nationwide injunction, instead limiting it to people who live in Virginia, as well as students and employees at Virginia colleges or universities. .

“Injunctive relief must be no broader than necessary,” to avoid encroaching on the ability of other circuits to consider the issues, said Brinkema.

The nationwide temporary restraining order upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California provides the broader protection Virginia sought, Brinkema wrote.

“To avoid any claim that the preliminary injunction in this litigation is defective because of overbreadth,” Brinkema added about limiting the scope of relief.

In last Thursday’s hearing, Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael, arguing on behalf of Attorney General Mark Herring, had said “not everyone coming to Virginia enters through Dulles,” raising the logistical challenge of ensuring people who live in Virginia, as well as students and employees of Virginia colleges can get back into the country if they land at an airport in another jurisdiction.

Brinkema’s ruling did not address that challenge.

Herring has said the executive order was “Donald Trump making good on his campaign promise for a Muslim ban.”

After the Monday night ruling, Herring said in a conference call, “I saw this unlawful, unconstitutional and un-American ban for exactly what it is and I am glad the court has too.”

Brinkema also said last Thursday that discussion of the travel ban could not be “considered in a vacuum,” citing Trump’s discussions of a Muslim ban before and after it was signed.

In her ruling, Brinkema included quotes from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in which Trump had requested help in establishing a Muslim ban, but Giuliani said Trump asked him to “show me the right way to do it legally.”

Attorneys for Trump had suggested only the president has the authority to make decisions regarding national security in the form of executive orders.

“Maximum power does not mean absolute power,” Brinkema wrote. “Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.”

Brinkema said Virginia was already being irreparably harmed by the ban, citing declarations from state universities that international travel of at least 350 students had been affected.

“Students have also begun withdrawing applications to attend Virginia schools as a result of the travel ban,” wrote Brinkema.

Herring also said Monday, “The judge noted that Virginia itself was suffering concrete harm, particularly our universities where students had to limit their travel.”

While the court battle is far from over, Herring said the judge’s reasons for the injunction should give those impacted some comfort, saying, “I think they can have a lot more confidence knowing that the judge has found that there is a likelihood that the Commonwealth will win at trial.”

This injunction will stay in place until the case goes to trial.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report. 

Editors note: This story has been modified to clarify who is affected by the preliminary injunction.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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