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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Federal judge in Seattle halts Trump immigration order

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, following a hearing in federal court in Seattle. A U.S. judge on Friday temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States after Washington state and Minnesota urged a nationwide hold on the executive order that has launched legal battles across the country. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

SEATTLE – Immigration and visits to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries can resume immediately, after a federal judge blocked a week-old order signed by President Donald Trump curtailing that travel.

In a ruling that applies to the entire country, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart said Washington state is likely to succeed in its challenge that the order violates the U.S. Constitution, including protections for freedom of religion.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer released a statement late Friday saying they “will file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate.” Soon after, the White House sent out a new statement that removed the word “outrageous.”

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the statement said.

Trump’s order last week sparked protests nationwide and confusion at airports as some travelers were detained. The White House has said that it will make the country safer.

Robart rejected arguments by U.S. Attorney Michelle Bennett that presidents have certain powers under national security considerations that “trump” other laws.

That would suggest no one could challenge the president if he says something is done for national security, Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell countered.

In his ruling, Robart agreed it wasn’t the courts’ job to make policy or “to judge the wisdom of any policy by the other two branches.” But it is his job to determine whether the order complies with laws and the Constitution. And some of the order’s sections, even though temporary, don’t meet that test, the judge ruled.

He issued his ruling orally at the end of an hourlong hearing that featured a heavy grilling of both Bennett and Purcell. The written version of the ruling will be available by Monday morning if the federal government wants to appeal it to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Robart noted.

Unless the appeals court overturns it, the order remains in place at least until a hearing on a more permanent order can take place.

Robart directed all federal agencies around the country not to enforce the sections of the order that restrict travel by immigrants and refugees from the seven countries. Other judges have stopped parts of the order in several cities around the country, but Robart’s order is the first that can be applied nationwide.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the state will be monitoring whether the order is followed in the state. The state of Minnesota joined Washington in the lawsuit, and other states have contacted him about joining, Ferguson said after the hearing.

“Not even a president can violate our Constitution,” Ferguson said on the steps of the federal courthouse in Seattle. “It’s a wonderful day for the rule of law.”

Ferguson later told CNN that lawyers in his office had worked around the clock for the past six days to prepare the lawsuit and their court arguments.

He said of the judge’s ruling, “To say it was the best day of my professional life would be an understatement.”

Robart said in his ruling that sections of Trump’s executive order providing preferences to refugees who are religious minorities in the seven countries gives them an unfair priority based on their religion.

He also rejected claims by Bennett that as a state, Washington didn’t have the authority to sue the federal government because it couldn’t show harm. Certain individuals might be able to, she argued, but they aren’t part of the lawsuit.

The law is murky on the point, Robart said, but Purcell met that burden, known as standing, by citing losses Washington State University and the University of Washington could suffer from foreign-born faculty who can’t get back in the country after traveling abroad or foreign students who wouldn’t be allowed in.

The state also claimed it could lose revenue from visitors not allowed to come to the state, and filed statements from Amazon and Expedia that the travel restrictions could hurt their businesses.

Robart questioned Purcell closely on the claim of religious preference, noting that Trump’s order does not specifically mention Islam or Muslims. Purcell replied that he didn’t think the order needed to say that, but noted that Trump mentioned a Muslim ban during the presidential campaign.

“It seems to me a bit of a reach to say the president is clearly anti-Muslim based on what he said in New Hampshire in June,” Robart replied.

But he rejected Bennett’s argument that the state was making its claim about religious preference too early because the rules to address religious minorities haven’t been drafted yet. He also rejected her claim that there was no showing of immediate “irreparable harm,” which is a standard for an emergency court order.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was visiting Spokane on Friday, declined comment immediately after hearing about the decision but later tweeted, “This is a tremendous victory for the State of Washington. We should feel heartened by today’s victory and more resolute than ever that we are fighting on the right side of history.”

And King County Executive Dow Constantine tweeted, “I am grateful Judge Robart upheld the Constitution and our common sense of humanity today.” He added that Washington “continues to lead the resistance to this new regime. I thank (Ferguson) & his staff attorneys for quickly bringing this meritorious action.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.