Hawaii judge rejects government's request to limit travel ban order

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is taking center stage once again in the latest development in President Donald Trump's proposed travel ban. The same federal judge who blocked the revised travel ban last week Wednesday has denied a Justice Department request to limit the temporary restraining order.

In the ruling Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson rejected the federal government's motion asking him to narrow the enforcement of his injunction to just the portion of the President's executive order restricting travel to the U.S. by citizens of six majority-Muslim countries.

In a very brief order, Judge Watson rejected the Justice Department's request that the judge issue a "clarification" about his injunction, writing in part: "There is nothing unclear about the scope of the Court's order...The Federal Defendants' Motion is denied."

Watson's ruling definitively states that the restraining order does apply to provisions to halt global refugee admissions for 120 days and to cap the number of those who are allowed into the U.S. at 50,000 this fiscal year.

"He certainly was very strong in saying to the government's attorneys that he meant what he said and he doesn't see any need to further clarify -- and part of that is to say that he intended to enjoin enforcement throughout the country," said Avi Soifer, dean of the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

Court records show Judge Watson said the federal government can't ask for a distinction that officials failed to make in earlier briefs and arguments. This was in response to the Justice Department filing on Friday night asking the Hawaii judge to clarify that his temporary injunction only applies to the restriction on travel from six Muslim-majority countries and not the entire travel ban.

Hawaii's Attorney General Doug Chin quickly responded with a motion Saturday opposing the request.

Legal experts believe the Justice Department's motion was more litigation strategy then an actual need for clarification as they requested. They say that's because although the Hawaii and Maryland decisions blocking the president's revised travel ban came down on the same day, the reasoning behind each judge's decision was different.

In Hawaii, Judge Watson issued the temporary injunction on the basis that the travel ban violated the First Amendment of the Constitution preventing the establishment of religion -- meaning that you can't favor any one religion over another, but also that is that you can't disfavor a religion as compared to other religions. In this case, Muslims.

Legal analysts say the Maryland decision, however, was based on a federal statute that prevents discrimination on immigration.

"I think the Justice Department is making an assessment on whether it has stronger arguments on the Constitution or on the statute and that's the judgement they ultimately have to make," said UH Law School professor Eric Yamamoto. "This maneuver with Judge Watson was really not to get clarity but really to buy some extra time while they decide which case is better to appeal."

It will be up to the Justice Department to decide where to file their appeal.  Many legal experts believe they'll challenge the Maryland decision, which will send it to the 4th Circuit. An appeal on the Hawaii decision would go back to the 9th Circuit, which already ruled against the Justice Department's first executive order to implement a travel ban.

In February, the 9th Circuit upheld a Washington district court judge's ruling finding the president's first executive order was unconstitutional. The argument that was used against the first executive order had to do with separation of power and challenges to what the president's authority is. The Justice Department argued the executive order could not be reviewed, but the 9th Circuit ruled otherwise.

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