Federal judge in Hawaii extends ruling halting travel ban indefinitely

HONOLULU — A federal judge in Hawaii granted the state’s request for a longer-term halt of the revised travel ban executive order Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson blocked the core provisions of the revised executive order two weeks ago, concluding the order likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.

But Watson’s earlier decision was only a limited freeze of the executive order through a temporary restraining order.

As a result, the plaintiffs asked the judge to convert that decision into a longer-term preliminary injunction and Watson agreed Wednesday night.

The president’s 90-day ban on foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-ban on all refugees entering the country are now blocked indefinitely, unless a higher court changes Watson’s order or the state’s lawsuit is otherwise resolved.

The Justice Department said Thursday morning it will continue to defend the executive order.

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling. The president’s executive order fails 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,” a department spokesman said in a statement.

One of the practical implications of Wednesday’s decision is that the Justice Department can now immediately appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, should it choose to do so. But how long it will take for any appeals to be completed remains unclear.

The reasoning in Watson’s decision Wednesday largely follows his decision from two weeks ago, which used Supreme Court precedent to conclude that Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims during the presidential campaign speak to the constitutionality of the executive order.

“The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has,” Watson wrote Wednesday.

“The court concludes that, on the record before it, plaintiffs have met their burden of establishing a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.”

The DOJ has separately appealed a different federal judge’s decision to halt the 90-day travel ban to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.