By Alexander Burns
January 30, 2017
President Trump faced intensifying legal challenges on Monday over his decree sharply restricting immigration from the Muslim world, as two Democratic-leaning states signalled that they would attack the policy in court and a Muslim advocacy group filed a lawsuit calling the order an unconstitutional religious test.
The emerging legal actions are an aggressive effort by Democratic officials in the states to undercut Mr. Trump’s executive order, amid a chaotic debate in Congress over the propriety of the policy. Many Democrats at the state level have vowed to use every instrument at their disposal to thwart or blunt the impact of Mr. Trump’s policies.
In Washington State, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, announced on Monday that they would file a lawsuit seeking to gut Mr. Trump’s order, calling it a blunt attack on the Muslim faith that would damage businesses and individuals in the state.
Mr. Ferguson said in a news conference that the suit would be broader than any litigation filed elsewhere, and would be aimed at “invalidating the president’s unlawful action nationwide.” He said the state’s complaint would be backed by statements from major companies with their headquarters there, including Amazon and Expedia, attesting to the damaging nature of Mr. Trump’s action.
“This is un-American,” Mr. Inslee said of the executive order. “It is wrong and it will not stand.”
The Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, also a Democrat, intends to join a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against Mr. Trump’s policy, said people briefed on Ms. Healey’s plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because court documents have not yet been filed.
Ms. Healey is expected to file a motion to intervene on Tuesday morning, making the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a plaintiff in the existing litigation and claiming extensive harm to state institutions, including the University of Massachusetts, where students and faculty members would be directly affected by Mr. Trump’s travel ban.
The motion is expected to say that complying with Mr. Trump’s order would force public institutions in Massachusetts to discriminate illegally on the basis of religion and national origin, the people familiar with Ms. Healey’s plans said.
In addition to the two state actions, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed suit in Virginia on behalf of 27 Muslims residing in the United States, including some American citizens but also people who could be denied re-entry to the country if they leave while Mr. Trump’s ban is in place.
Mr. Trump’s executive order, which sharply cuts refugee admissions and aims to shut off immigration entirely from seven Muslim-majority countries — including Syria, Iraq and Iran — has faced furious opposition in court since it was announced on Friday.
Federal district courts in multiple states, including New York and Massachusetts, have issued temporary stays on important components of the order, preventing the government from deporting some people who had already arrived in the United States and ordering that people affected by the policy be granted access to legal counsel.
It is uncertain how the legal challenges will fare in court. But they could significantly complicate Mr. Trump’s effort to deliver on his campaign promises in short order, and may transform an action carried out by the stroke of a pen into a legal struggle lasting months or even years.
As a political matter, the expected lawsuits from Massachusetts and Washington State could also be an important first test of Democratic state attorneys general as they seek to push back against the Trump administration.
With Mr. Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress, Democratic legal officers at the state level have increasingly cast themselves as a check on Mr. Trump.
As an inspiration for their tactics, Democrats have cited the yearslong legal assault against the Obama administration by Republican state attorneys general, who succeeded in delaying or unwinding critical White House actions in court over the last eight years.
More than a dozen state attorneys general, all Democrats, signed a letter over the weekend condemning Mr. Trump’s immigration order. In addition to Washington State and Massachusetts, attorneys general in several other states are considering taking action against the executive order, but they have not yet announced specific plans for litigation.
The White House has defended the executive order as a national security precaution, and advisers to Mr. Trump have insisted that it does not represent a religious test because it screens people chiefly on the basis of geography rather than religion.
Groups challenging the order have described it as a kind of backdoor religious test, and have cited Mr. Trump’s statements on the campaign trail denouncing Muslim immigrants and vowing to block them wholesale from entering the United States.
In its lawsuit against the Trump administration, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called Mr. Trump’s policy a “Muslim Exclusion Order,” extensively citing Mr. Trump’s attacks on Islam during the presidential campaign and his pledge during the Republican primaries to shut off all Muslim immigration into the United States.
The lawsuit also quotes Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who advises Mr. Trump, saying in an interview over the weekend that Mr. Trump had solicited his assistance in reformulating his Muslim immigration ban to pass legal muster.
“Defendant Trump has often repeated his bigoted views on Islam and Muslims in a variety of contexts — in print, on television, and via official campaign statements,” the lawsuit states. “The Muslim Exclusion Order is the legal manifestation of those bigoted views.”
Stephanie Saul contributed reporting.