(RFE/RL) — U.S. President Donald Trump blasted a U.S. District Court judge who suspended his revised travel order, accusing him of “unprecedented judicial overreach.”
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson issued a decision blocking the order late March 15, hours before it was due to take effect, saying he found a strong likelihood the order would be ruled unconstitutional and would cause “irreparable injury” to the state of Hawaii and its citizens.
The executive order aimed to temporarily bar refugees as well as travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was due to go into effect on March 16.
“This is in the opinion of many an unprecedented judicial overreach,” Trump said after the judge acted, telling a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, that suspending a “watered down” order designed to keep terrorists out of the country “makes us look weak.”
Trump vowed to fight the decision and take it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. “We’re going to win” the legal battle, he told supporters.
“The constitution gave the president the power to suspend immigration when he deems it to be in the national interest of our country,” he said.
The suspended order, signed on March 6, was a revision of Trump’s original January 27 order, which would have barred visitors from Iraq as well as legal U.S. residents from six predominantly Muslim countries who hold “green cards.”
The targeted countries in the revised order are Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. Both the original order and the revised one also temporarily barred all refugees from the United States.
The Hawaii judge, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, was highly critical of even the more narrowly written order, saying it relied on “questionable evidence supporting the government’s national security motivation.”
He said Hawaii’s argument that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection against religious discrimination is likely to succeed in the courts.
An objective observer “would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion,” Watson wrote, adding that targeting the six Middle Eastern and African countries “likewise targets Islam” because their Muslim populations range from 90.7 percent to 99.8 percent.
The judge noted that Trump explicitly frames his proposed actions on immigration in religious language and cited a March 2016 interview in which Trump said, “I think Islam hates us.”
Hawaii was not the only state trying to stop the travel order. More than half a dozen states have filed court challenges.
U.S. courts in Maryland, Washington state, and Hawaii all heard arguments on March 15, and are also expected to rule soon on whether the order should be allowed to stand.
The Department of Justice called Watson’s ruling “flawed both in reasoning and in scope,” and insisted that the court did not give sufficient weight to the president’s broad legal authority in national security matters.
“The Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” it said.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the ban was needed to improve vetting of people entering the United States and prevent terrorist attacks. He said he had no doubt that it would be upheld eventually by higher courts.
Watson’s order is only temporary until the broader arguments in the case can be heard under an expedited hearing schedule before his court.