Trump, Sessions Fail in Court

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Honolulu.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Honolulu.

President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders banning citizens of some predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

A third executive order threatened to cut most federal funds to “sanctuary jurisdictions.” In those cities and counties, police and sheriff’s departments do not share immigration information with federal agencies.

States and local governments sued Trump over the orders. Federal judges found each order unconstitutional.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are furious.

Rather than anger, their approach should be respect for rights ensured by the Constitution and care when wielding the presidency’s executive power.

In the case of “sanctuary cities” — the more common term for sanctuary jurisdictions — the city and county of San Francisco sued Trump over his Jan. 25 order, as did the county of Santa Clara, California.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick of San Francisco issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities and immigration laws.

“The counties have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge,” Orrick said in his ruling against Trump’s order. He added that “they will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of harms and public interest weigh in their favor.”

Orrick said, “The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the president, so the order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds.”

On the issue of enforcing immigration laws, Orrick said, “Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.”

Trump criticized Orrick’s decision. “First the 9th Circuit rules against the ban and now it hits again on sanctuary cities — both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!” he wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, covers nine Western states, including California, and two territories. Orrick presides in a separate court system, the Northern District of California, which is part of the U.S. District Court.


On March 6, Trump nullified his Jan. 27 executive order banning travel by signing a replacement order.

The old executive order had been blocked Feb. 3 by a nationwide temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge James Robart of Seattle. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart’s ruling.

Sessions said the new executive order was written to avoid the first order’s pitfalls.

It eliminated Iraq from a list of seven countries whose citizens were banned from traveling to the U.S. for 90 days. The remaining six countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also banned entry of refugees for 120 days.

One day after Trump signed the order, Hawaii sued to stop it.

On March 15, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Honolulu ruled in favor of Hawaii. He issued a temporary restraining order against the executive order’s travel ban.

Watson said he found “evidence of a financial impact from the executive order on the university system.” Hawaii’s university system “recruits from the six affected countries,” he said.

On the question of whether the travel ban targets religion, Watson said “these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7 percent to 99.8 percent. It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam.”

On March 29, Watson extended his ruling by making it a preliminary injunction. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear a government appeal May 15.


Sessions insulted Watson and Hawaii on April 18. “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said to Mark Levin on his talk radio show.

As attorney general and simply as a lawyer, Sessions should know that a federal judge’s ruling can be applied nationwide. Also, he should know that the U.S. District Court in Honolulu would hear a federal lawsuit filed by the state of Hawaii.

Sessions further demeaned himself Sunday when he tried to explain his slur by saying “nobody has a sense of humor anymore” on ABC-TV’s “This Week.”

Watson was not the only judge to make a nationwide ruling on the second travel ban.

On the same day as Watson, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang of Greenbelt, Maryland, ruled. From the court, which is just 11 miles northeast of the White House, Chuang issued a nationwide temporary restraining order on the portion of the executive order banning travel from citizens of six nations.

On May 8, the full U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, is scheduled to hear the government’s appeal of Chuang’s ruling. As many as 15 judges could take part.

In challenges to President Trump’s three executive orders on travel and immigration, the courts are carrying out the role assigned to them by the nation’s founders. They are applying the checks and balances built into the Constitution.

Trump should preside neither as a bully nor by bravado. Sessions should maintain decorum. Trump’s lawyers and the attorney general should hold themselves to the confines of the Constitution. They should encourage the president to do likewise.

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