Washington state was thrust into the international spotlight when Attorney General Bob Ferguson challenged the Trump administration’s travel moratorium for refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Regardless of what happens next, this episode will go down in history as a reminder of the checks and balances that steady our constitutional republic.
Ferguson and his team have become heroes to many people: those who were suddenly blocked from traveling back to the U.S., the employers who needed them, college students and, most poignantly, refugees who thought they were on the last leg of their desperate journeys.
Ferguson could be accused of political opportunism – he’s a Democrat from a blue state – but that would’ve gotten him nowhere in court without substantive arguments.
His case wound up in front of U.S. District Judge James L. Robart of Seattle, who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush. At Robart’s 2004 confirmation hearing, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lauded the judge’s work representing Asian refugees, according to the Washington Post.
Nobody objected to Robart’s confirmation. Nobody called him a “so-called judge,” until President Trump did. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing this controversy is yet another partisan struggle, but the evidence shows otherwise.
When then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order to grant special status to the illegal immigrant parents of children who are lawful U.S. residents, the Texas attorney general sued and won. As with the current case, the ruling extended across the country, because immigration laws are to be applied uniformly. Judge Robart cited that 2015 ruling in granting a nationwide injunction, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also referred to it in upholding Robart’s decision.
In 2015, Obama critics cheered the courts as the case went from Texas, to the 5th Circuit, to the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 4-4, thwarting the executive order. In 2017, Trump critics are cheering the courts.
Far from being political, the courts, thus far, have been consistent. They’ve rejected the notion that presidential decisions aren’t reviewable. They’ve forced presidents to show that their orders are necessary and legal.
This is how our system works, and we should all cheer that. It stymies authoritarian impulses. It limits overreach. It rejects arguments that amount to: “I’m the president; that’s why.”
Now it looks as if the Trump administration will regroup and tighten the order. That should’ve been the decision from day one, because the order was obviously put together and rolled out in haste. If there are specific threats that require quick action, the administration still has ways to act.
But if this was simply a way to follow through on a long-ago campaign promise to impose a moratorium of sorts on Muslims entering the country, then we can be thankful for the Washington attorney general and judge who said, “Not so fast.”
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