Written by Don Byrd

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 10-3 ruling earlier today in favor of plaintiffs challenging the Trump Administration’s revised executive order, which among other things bars immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries. Finding the primary purpose of the order to be religious rather than secular, the decision leaves in place a lower court’s injunction halting the enforcement of that section of the order nationwide.

The court relied on President Trump’s controversial statements as a candidate calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, as well as statements made by his aides, to conclude that the true purpose of the order was to limit the ability of Muslims to enter the United States, rather than the national security rationale offered by the administration. 

In the opening paragraph of the chief judge’s majority opinion, he describes Trump’s Executive Order as one which:

…in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination. Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another.

The President’s campaign statements regarding Muslims were detailed over several pages of the opinion. The Court emphasized that along with those of Trump’s representatives, the statements:

…provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both EO-1 and EO-2: President Trump’s desire to exclude Muslims from the United States. . . .  We need not probe anyone’s heart of hearts to discover the purpose of EO-2, for President Trump and his aides have explained it on numerous occasions and in no uncertain terms.

While the President is entitled to deference in matters of immigration policy, the court explained,

Once plaintiffs credibly call into question the political branches’ motives for exercising that power, our reason for deferring is severely undermined. In the rare case where plaintiffs plausibly allege bad faith with particularity, more meaningful review—in the form of constitutional scrutiny—is proper.

The administration has said that it will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other similar challenges across the country are winding their way through the court system. Most recently, the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in a similar suit challenging President Trump’s revised travel ban.