Virginia federal judge rules in favor of Trump's travel ban

Unlike federal judges before him, a judge in Virginia on Friday ruled in favor of President Trump’s revised travel ban in a case brought by Muslims who said the president’s executive order illegally discriminated against their religion by restricting travel from six majority-Muslim countries.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga of the Eastern District Court of Virginia in Alexandria wrote that the plaintiffs, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim community leaders from across the country, probably would not prevail in their suit.

Trenga said the travel ban likely “falls within the bounds” of Trump’s authority as president, and he rejected a request to halt the order.

Trenga’s ruling doesn’t have an immediate effect on the ban, which was put on hold by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland last week. But it gives ammunition to government lawyers arguing for the ban across several U.S. courts where cases against it are pending.

The Hawaii and Maryland rulings agreed with arguments that the travel ban violated the Constitution by discriminating against Muslims. The judges cited statements by Trump and his campaign associates about restricting Muslim travel to the U.S. as evidence of their intent to single out followers of Islam.

Trenga’s opinion gave less weight to Trump’s statements. It more strictly looked at how the travel ban is worded in light of presidential power over immigration and national security.

The judge highlighted the changes made to narrow the scope of the travel ban after an initial version of the order was struck down by federal courts in January and February. Changes in the new version included omitting Iraq from the list of countries whose travelers would be blocked and removing preferential treatment of refugees who were religious minorities.

The Department of Justice, which is defending the Trump administration in court, hailed Trenga’s move.

“The Department of Justice is pleased with the ruling,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. “As the Court correctly explains, the president’s executive order falls well within his authority to safeguard the nation’s security.”

The original travel ban, signed Jan. 27, was halted by federal district courts and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The new ban, signed March 6 and scheduled to go into effect March 16, was modified in an attempt to pass court muster.

The Maryland ruling stopped the revised executive order’s 90-day ban on travel into the U.S. by citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Hawaii ruling went a step further by also blocking a 120-day pause on refugee resettlement from any country. It also blocked the government’s attempt to cap refugee resettlement and the compiling of a series of government studies and reports on how refugees and foreign visitors to the U.S. are vetted.

Those rulings, as well as the one Friday in Virginia, are not final but temporary decisions on the travel ban as the cases over its constitutionality proceed.

The Department of Justice has appealed the Maryland decision to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals but has not appealed in the Hawaii case.

Trump has said he wants to take arguments over the travel ban to the Supreme Court.

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