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Judge refuses to dismiss challenge to Trump travel ban

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

A Michigan case challenging Republican President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban can proceed, a federal judge in Detroit ruled Wednesday, saying plaintiffs plausibly allege Trump acted with an “animus toward Muslims.”

U.S. District Court Judge Victoria A. Roberts, an appointee of Democratic former President Bill Clinton, denied a request from the Department of Justice to dismiss the suit because the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar case out of Hawaii.

Roberts' decision keeps the legal dispute alive.

The Hawaii ruling was limited in nature, she said, and plaintiffs in the Michigan suit details “allege significant, well-pled and supported facts to refute that the Proclamation is rationally related to national security goals and to induce other nations to improve information sharing,” she wrote.

At issue is a 2017 proclamation Trump issued in what he described as an attempt to detect “entry into the United States by terrorists or other public-safety threats” by restricting travel into the U.S. from seven countries.

Unlike his earlier executive orders that focused only on Muslim-majority countries, Trump expanded the proclamation to include North Korea and Venezuela. But plaintiffs in the Michigan case allege that was done to cover up discrimination against Muslims and make the proclamation appear religion-neutral. 

The Department of Justice had asked Roberts to dismiss the case in October, citing a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the Hawaii challenge. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 5-4 conservative majority, said the proclamation was “squarely within the scope of presidential authority.”

At the time, Trump called the Supreme Court ruling a tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution" following “months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country.”

But Judge Roberts said arguments and evidence in the Michigan suit are “materially different” than the scope of the Supreme Court review. And beyond their reliance on that case, the Trump administration has failed to “meaningfully challenge the factual allegations” in the Michigan suit, she said.

Roberts noted Trump’s history of comments about the travel ban, including his own 2016 presidential debate description of how his proposed “Muslim ban” had morphed into a more palatable form of “extreme vetting.”

“Notably, what President Trump made explicit while on the campaign trail was his desire and intention to ban Muslims from entering the United States – even if it meant framing the ban in terms of ‘territories,’” the judge wrote. “President Trump has never disguised his true goal or the purpose of the ban.”

She cited several Trump tweets, including one on June 5, 2017: “The lawyers and courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” In addition, she cited a November 2017 retweet of links to three anti-Muslim videos "which portrayed Muslim individuals committing acts of violence."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit was filed on behalf of four individuals who live in the U.S. and applied for visas for immediate relatives to join them from Yemen or Somalia, two of the Muslim-majority countries included in Trump’s proclamation. Others include Iran, Libya and Syria.

The complaint, revised after the Supreme Court ruling, contends Trump's proclamation violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others, equal protection due process rights and plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

Organizational plaintiffs include the Arab American Civil Rights League, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, American Arab Chamber of Commerce, Arab American and Chaldean Council and Arab American Studies Association.