President Trump’s attempts to block travelers from a handful of countries — most of them predominantly Muslim — from coming to the United States hit another legal snag on Tuesday, when a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order freezing most of Mr. Trump’s third travel ban the day before it was to take effect.
At least for now, the judge’s order will prevent the Trump administration from stopping almost all travel to the United States indefinitely from most of the countries named in the ban.
The ban, now in its third iteration, was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest and most controversial decisions after taking office in January, and it has also been one of the most legally troubled. Both previous versions were ordered halted by federal district judges who said they violated the Constitution or exceeded the president’s authority, and those orders were upheld on appeal.
The Supreme Court was scheduled to review the second version of the order when Mr. Trump issued the third. Given the litigation surrounding the travel bans, the Supreme Court seems likely to take an interest in the current version as well.
Citing his campaign promises to keep terrorists and criminals out of the country, Mr. Trump initially ordered an immediate suspension of travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a move that plunged airports across the country into confusion and protest in January. That order was eventually blocked by a federal judge in Seattle. Mr. Trump’s second attempt narrowed the scope of the ban, but still struggled to survive judicial scrutiny; it was blocked in March by the same Hawaii judge who issued Tuesday’s order, Derrick K. Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu.
The third travel ban, Judge Watson wrote on Tuesday, “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor.” Among those flaws, he wrote, was that the ban “plainly discriminates based on nationality” in a way that undercut “the founding principles of this Nation,” and that the government had not shown that the United States’ national interests would be harmed by admitting travelers from the affected countries.
The Trump administration swiftly denounced the judge’s order, saying that the latest travel restrictions were issued after an “extensive worldwide security review” by Homeland Security officials.
The judge’s order “undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” the White House said in a statement. “These restrictions are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.” The statement called the ban “lawful and necessary” and expressed confidence that the courts would “swiftly restore its vital protections.”
The third version of the ban went further than the original, imposing permanent restrictions on travel instead of the original 90-day suspensions. Most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, as well as certain Venezuelan government officials and their families, were to be excluded from entering the United States at all, while citizens of Iraq were to face extra barriers to entry. The ban was scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday.
Judge Watson’s order blocks the administration from shutting the country’s doors to people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. It does not prevent the administration from barring North Koreans or Venezuelans or from subjecting Iraqis to stricter scrutiny.
The White House took pains to emphasize that the latest version was extensively vetted, with each of the affected countries subject to its own set of restrictions tailored to its security capabilities. The rollout of the third version of the executive order was supposed to avoid all the chaos of the first one: Legal permanent residents who were barred from the United States under the first travel ban would not be affected by the third, and people who already hold valid visas, including students now in the United States and employees of American businesses, would not have their visas revoked, as could have happened under the earlier ban. (Once their visas expired, however, they would be subject to the ban.)
Administration officials noted that non-Muslim countries were included in the order. But critics of the ban said that the addition of North Koreans and a small number of Venezuelans did little to disguise the ban’s targeting of Muslims.
Judge Watson appeared to find few substantial differences between Mr. Trump’s second effort and his third.
“Professional athletes mirror the federal government in this respect,” he wrote. “They operate within a set of rules, and when one among them forsakes those rules in favor of his own, problems ensue.”
The judge found that the government’s rationale for barring people from certain countries from entering the United States — that doing so would bolster national security — did not make sense, writing that the administration had failed to show a clear link between a person’s nationality and the threat he or she posed.
“The categorical restrictions on entire populations of men, women, and children, based upon nationality, are a poor fit for the issues regarding the sharing of ‘public-safety and terrorism-related information’ that the president identifies,” the judge wrote. Meanwhile, he added, dangerous people of other nationalities could fall outside the scope of the ban: “This leads to absurd results,” he wrote, adding that the executive order was “simultaneously overbroad and underinclusive.”
The judge also said that the order contradicted the administration’s public rationale by applying fewer restrictions to people from Iraq and Venezuela, which the administration said had failed to clear the security standards it had set, than it did on Somalia, which had met the baseline requirements. The administration also provided no coherent explanation for many of the carve-outs for certain categories of people in the ban, such as Iranian students, the judge wrote.
While the administration’s national security goals were important, Judge Watson said, the government had failed to prove that letting people affected by the ban into the country would directly harm the interests of the United States.
A spokesman for the Justice Department, Ian Prior, said the judge’s order failed to “properly respect the separation of powers” between the executive branch and the judiciary, and said the administration would appeal. The government has consistently argued that the president has broad powers to determine who may enter the country.
The judge’s ruling came in a suit filed by the state of Hawaii. The state’s attorney general, Douglas Chin, said in a statement: “This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion. Today is another victory for the rule of law. We stand ready to defend it.”
Judge Watson’s earlier ruling on the second version of the travel ban was upheld by an appeals court, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed portions of that travel ban to take effect. It also allowed Mr. Trump to continue controlling the flow of refugees into the country. Administration officials said last month that Mr. Trump would cap refugee admissions at 45,000 over the next year.