Hawai’i v. Trump (D. Haw. 2017): Defeat of the “Muslim Ban” 2.0

By Katherine Gonzalez

On March 6, 2017, President Donald J. Trump, issued a revised Executive Order which barred, with certain exceptions, entry to the United States of nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries, suspended the entry of refugees for 120 days, and reduced the number of refugees who can be admitted to the United States by more than half. The Plaintiffs (the State of Hawai’i and Dr. Ismail Elshikh, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who serves as the Imam of the Muslim Association of Hawai’i) filed a motion for a nationwide temporary restraining order.

The Plaintiffs argued that the revised Executive Order subjected them to discrimination in violation of the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. (INA), because the Executive Order results in “their having to live in a country and in a State where there is the perception that the Government has established a disfavored religion.” The Plaintiffs pointed to public statements by the President and his advisors regarding the implementation of a “Muslim Ban,” which the Plaintiffs contended was the tacit and illegitimate motivation underlying the revised Executive Order. For example, the Plaintiffs pointed to a statement by President Trump that he was “establishing a new vetting measure to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” and that “We don’t want them here,” and to an interview with President Trump in which he claimed: “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”

The Court found that the State of Hawai’i and Dr. Elshikh both had standing to assert their claims. The Court found that Hawai’i had standing due to the harms to the state’s proprietary interests as operator of public universities and due to preliminary data that indicated the revised Executive Order had suppressed international travel and injured tourism as Hawai’i’s main economic driver. As for Dr. Elshikh’s standing, the Court observed that the injury-in-fact prerequisite can be “particularly elusive” in Establishment Clause cases because plaintiffs do not typically allege an invasion of a physical or economic interest. “Despite that, a plaintiff may nonetheless show an injury that is sufficiently concrete, particularized, and actual to confer standing.” See Catholic League, 624 F.3d at 1048-49; Vasquez v. L.A. County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1250 (9th Cir. 2007). Dr. Elshikh had standing because the revised Executive Order left him and his family, including a wife of Syrian descent and young children who are American citizens, with the knowledge that the United States—their own country—would discriminate against individuals who are the same ethnicity as them, and who hold the same religious beliefs. The Court found that, because the revised Executive Order targeted Muslim citizens due to their religious views and national origin, which may result in these citizens being unable to associate freely with those of other faiths, the injuries are sufficiently personal, concrete, particularized and actual to confer standing in the Establishment Clause context.

As for the Establishment Clause claim, the Court declined the Defendants’ urging to rely on the Executive Order’s religiously neutral text, and instead evaluated the text in conjunction with the historical background of the revised Executive Order. The Court found this historical record “includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor.” The Court included statements made by President Trump including: “I think Islam hates us” and “People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”

Because the Court found that the Plaintiffs have shown a “strong likelihood” of succeeding on their claim that the Executive Order violates First Amendment rights under the Constitution, and “it is always in the public interest to prevent the violation of a party’s constitutional rights,” Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990, 1002 (9th Cir. 2012), the Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO). In effect, the TRO now blocks the second version of the ban.

Editors’ Note: Many of the statements about Islam, including references to Islam generally and to jihād, tend to refer to false conceptions of Islamic law or sharīʿa as inherently violent.

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