Written by Don Byrd

The 9th Circuit yesterday upheld the injunction halting much of President Trump’s Executive Order 13780 without addressing claims related to religious discrimination. The revised travel ban, among other things, halts immigration from certain countries and suspends the refugee program.

The plaintiffs argued that the new order exceeds the President’s authority under immigration law, and violates the Establishment Clause because its purpose is to limit the ability of Muslims to enter the country. In its opinion (as in its ruling against the original executive order), however, the appeals court did not address the Establishment Clause issue, because it found sufficient basis to uphold the injunction through application of immigration law. Specifically, the court held that the President exceeded his statutory authority by failing “to make sufficient findings that the entry of nationals from the six designated countries and the entry of all refugees would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

An important principle of judicial prudence is to avoid reaching constitutional questions if a dispute can be resolved on other grounds. The court seemed to criticize the underlying Hawaii District Court opinion for focusing on the Establishment Clause issue and avoiding the immigration law (INA) claim.

[T]he district court decided an important and controversial constitutional claim without first expressing its views on Plaintiffs’ statutory claims, including their INA-based claim. The INA claim was squarely before the district court and briefed and argued before this court. Mindful of the Supreme Court’s admonition that “courts should be extremely careful not to issue unnecessary constitutional rulings,” “[p]articularly where, as here, a case implicates the fundamental relationship between the Branches,” we think it appropriate to turn first to the INA claim.

You can read the opinion here.

As I posted last month, the 4th Circuit did address the Establishment Clause issue in upholding a nationwide injunction halting the order, finding that the President’s purpose was to target Muslims in immigration policy as evidenced by his many campaign statements indicating an intention to do just that. The 4th Circuit’s ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Baptist Joint Committee’s Amanda Tyler issued a statement about the revised order, and called upon President Trump to “renounce his prior comments calling for a Muslim ban and condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in all its forms.”