4th Circuit Federal Appeals Court Upholds Block on Trump’s Travel Ban

May 25, 2017

The Disciples RIM Staff celebrates the 4th Circuit Appeals Court ruling in Richmond, Va. on May 25 that upheld a lower court ruling which had barred the administration from suspending visas to individuals from 6 primarily Muslim countries; including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  The 4th circuit has said that it was “unconvinced” that the order “has more to do with national security than it does with effectuating the president’s proposed Muslim ban.”

The White House claimed it had the authority to issue the order based on the president’s powers to limit certain immigrants.  The 4th Circuit ruling also noted that even though “Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens,” nonetheless they ruled that this “power is not absolute.”

Please see below additional details regarding the court’s responses to issues raised through the case from the General Counsel of International Rescue Committee:


On the use of Trump’s and associates’ statements about banning Muslims:

Just as the reasonable observer’s “world is not made brand new every morning,” McCreary, 545 U.S. at 866, nor are we able to awake without the vivid memory of these statements. We cannot shut our eyes to such evidence when it stares us in the face, for “there’s none so blind as they that won’t see.” Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation 174 (Chiswick Press ed., 1892). If and when future courts are confronted with campaign or other statements proffered as evidence of governmental purpose, those courts must similarly determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether such statements are probative evidence of governmental purpose. Our holding today neither limits nor expands their review.21

For a past statement to be relevant to the government’s purpose, there must be a substantial, specific connection between it and the challenged government action. And here, in this highly unique set of circumstances, there is a direct link between the President’s numerous campaign statements promising a Muslim ban that targets territories, the discrete action he took only one week into office executing that exact plan, and EO-2, the “watered down” version of that plan that “get[s] just about everything,” and “in some ways, more.” J.A. 370.

On the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits:

The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review. The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution.

EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. We therefore find that EO-2 likely fails Lemon’s purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause.22 Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in concluding that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.

On the Trump administration’s purported national security justification for the ban:

As we previously determined, the Government’s asserted national security interest in enforcing Section 2(c) appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country. We remain unconvinced that Section 2(c) has more to do with national security than it does with effectuating the President’s promised Muslim ban. We do not discount that EO-2 may have some national security purpose, nor do we disclaim that the injunction may have some impact on the Government. But our inquiry, whether for determining Section 2(c)’s primary purpose or for weighing the harm to the parties, is one of balance, and on balance, we cannot say that the Government’s asserted national security interest outweighs the competing harm to Plaintiffs of the likely Establishment Clause violation.

On the existence of irreparable harm to plaintiffs:

When the government chooses sides on religious issues, the “inevitable result” is “hatred, disrespect and even contempt” towards those who fall on the wrong side of the line. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). Improper government involvement with religion “tends to destroy government and to degrade religion,” id., encourage persecution of religious minorities and nonbelievers, and foster hostility and division in our pluralistic society. The risk of these harms is particularly acute here, where from the highest elected office in the nation has come an Executive Order steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group. “The fullest realization of true religious liberty requires that government neither engage in nor compel religious practices, that it effect no favoritism among sects or between religion and nonreligion, and that it work deterrence of no religious belief.” Sch. Dist. of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 305 (1963) (Goldberg, J. concurring). We therefore conclude that enjoining Section 2(c) promotes the public interest of the highest order. And because Plaintiffs have satisfied all the requirements for securing a preliminary injunction, we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining Section 2(c) of EO-2.

On why a nationwide preliminary injunction ordered below was justified:

The district court here found that a number of factors weighed in favor of a nationwide injunction, and we see no error. First, Plaintiffs are dispersed throughout the United States. See J.A. 263, 273; see also Richmond Tenants Org., 956 F.2d at 1308–09 (upholding nationwide injunction where challenged conduct caused irreparable harm in myriad jurisdictions across the country). Second, nationwide injunctions are especially appropriate in the immigration context, as Congress has made clear that “the immigration laws of the United States should be enforced vigorously and uniformly.” Texas v. United States, 809 F.3d 134, 187–88 (5th Cir. 2015), aff’d by an equally divided court, 136 S. Ct. 2271 (2016) (quoting Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 99-603, § 115(1), 100 Stat. 3359, 3384); see also Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2502 (2015) (describing the “comprehensive and unified system” of “track[ing] aliens within the Nation’s borders”). And third, because Section 2(c) likely violates the Establishment Clause, enjoining it only as to Plaintiffs would not cure the constitutional deficiency, which would endure in all Section 2(c)’s applications. Its continued enforcement against similarly situated individuals would only serve to reinforce the “message” that Plaintiffs “are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 309 (quoting Lynch, 465 U.S. at 688 (O’Connor, J., concurring)). For these reasons, we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was “necessary to provide complete relief.” Madsen, 512 U.S. at 778.