President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Nashville on Wednesday © AP

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, blocking nationwide implementation of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban just hours before it was due to take effect. 

US District Court judge Derrick Watson’s ruling marked the second major courtroom defeat for Mr Trump, who rewrote his original January 27 executive order on immigration following an earlier legal setback in Seattle. 

Judge Watson ruled that the state of Hawaii and one of its Muslim residents had demonstrated “a strong likelihood of success” in their claim that Mr Trump’s travel ban violated the Constitution’s prohibition on establishment of a state religion. 

The judge also cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” motivating both the president’s new and original travel ban, including Mr Trump’s March 2016 statement: “I think Islam hates us.” 

Mr Trump responded to the order at a rally in Tennessee by vowing to take the case to the Supreme Court.

“This ruling makes us look weak, which by the way we no longer are,” he said. “We’re going to fight this terrible ruling.”

The Department of Justice said the ruling was “flawed both in reasoning and in scope”, adding:"The president’s executive order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation’s security, and the department will continue to defend this executive order in the courts.”

Judge Watson wrote that “any reasonable observer” would conclude that the president’s stated goal of protecting Americans from terrorism was eclipsed by a desire to prevent Muslims from entering the US. 

The government’s case was handicapped by a “dearth of evidence” demonstrating a genuine national security need for the policy, he added. 

The revised travel ban barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim nations and froze new refugee admissions for 120 days. 

Critics described both the original order and its replacement as a “Muslim ban”, in keeping with the president’s campaign promise for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. 

The White House has denied that, but Judge Watson, one of three federal judges hearing challenges to the ban, cited public comments from advisers to Mr Trump suggesting the order was anti-Muslim.

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president, said on February 21 that the new travel ban would result in “the same basic policy outcome for the country” while Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and an informal administration adviser, said: “When [Mr Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up. He said: ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’” 

The White House said the ban could not be construed as anti-Muslim since it only applied to six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq was dropped from the original list following complaints from Iraqi officials whose troops are battling the Isis alongside US forces. 

“The illogic of the government’s contentions is palpable,” Judge Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.” 

The Muslim share of the population in the six affected countries ranges from 91 per cent to almost 99 per cent, noted the judge, a Harvard Law School graduate named to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2012.

“The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect.”

Follow David J Lynch on Twitter: @davidjlynch

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