As you might have noticed over the weekend, the question of whether the United States will respect its longstanding commitment to religious liberty for all is proceeding at warp speed in federal court. So Americans United is fulfilling its commitment to that principle at the same pace.
Last week, the state of Washington filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, on its own behalf and for citizens whose professional, academic and personal circumstances are placed in jeopardy by the president's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and curtailing the U.S. refugee program. Minnesota soon joined the Evergreen State.
Among their arguments are that the order violates the portion of the First Amendment that says there shall be no law “respecting an establishment of religion.” We lawyers call this the Establishment Clause, and it’s Americans United's special area of expertise.
Trump's Muslim ban is clearly discriminatory, AU has told a federal appeals court.
AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee led the preparation of a friend-of-the-court brief that explained to U.S. District Judge James Robart that the evident discrimination against Muslims required invalidation of Trump’s order, especially given the repeated statements by the president and allies that he intended a Muslim ban and that he wants to favor refugees who are Christian.
As soon as the brief was filed on Thursday, Katskee and AU legal fellows Andrew Nellis and Bradley Girard jumped on a plane to appear at argument to answer any questions Robart might have about our church-state claims. Although they weren’t asked to weigh in during the hearing, they were there when Robart, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a temporary restraining order stopping the application of the order in its tracks around the country. Among other things, the ruling restored at least 60,000 visas that had been revoked as the result of the ban.
The pace has not slowed. Trump attacked Robart as a “so-called judge” in a disturbing tweet, and the U.S. Justice Department immediately appealed his ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Trump administration has asked the appeals court to lift the restraining order, which would result in the ban going back into effect and renewing the chaos and upset caused by the initial travel ban.
The 9th Circuit ordered both sides to prepare their arguments by Monday afternoon. AU’s team of attorneys worked all day Sunday and well into the morning – no Super Bowl for them! – on a new friend-of-the-court brief in support of Washington and Minnesota, bringing the important church-state angle of this case to the forefront by describing to the appeals court how the ban tramples on religious freedom.
AU is in good company. Supporting briefs have also been filed by major American businesses, university professors and a group of national security leaders including former Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as other civil liberties organizations. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined AU's brief.)
The court will hear arguments in the case on Tuesday -- they will be livestreamed -- and is likely to rule quickly on the government’s motion for a stay. All of this will occur amidst the toxic environment created by Trump’s tweets assailing Robart and preemptively blaming the courts for any terror acts that occur on the president’s own security watch.
Have no doubt, the independence of the judiciary and core constitutional values are on trial along with the ban itself. We're going to keep fighting the Muslim ban. You can sign up for AU's updates to stay on top of this and other important church-state issues.