Federal Judge Hears Virginia's 'Monumental' Challenge of Trump Travel Ban - NBC4 Washington
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Federal Judge Hears Virginia's 'Monumental' Challenge of Trump Travel Ban

A Justice Department lawyer argued that Virginia failed to show any immediate harm from the ban

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    Northern Virginia bureau chief Julie Carey reports on the federal court hearing Friday in Alexandria over President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration. (Published Friday, Feb. 10, 2017)

    Lawyers for the state of Virginia challenged President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration Friday, arguing in federal court that its seven-nation travel ban violates the Constitution and is the result of "animus toward Muslims."

    U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema repeatedly pressed a government lawyer to provide evidence that supports a national security need for the ban. The judge did not rule on Friday but had stern words about the executive order, which she said is "full of all sorts of weaknesses." 

    Virginia's challenge comes after a federal appeals court in San Francisco refused Thursday to reinstate the ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. The case in Virginia is further ahead. In it, the judge is asked to grant a permanent injunction to block the travel ban until a trial can be held. 

    Virginia's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, called the case "monumental." He argued that the ban discriminates against Muslims. 

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    "If the plan is to discriminate against Muslims, this is a pretty good way to start," he said. 

    Herring said students from outside the United States are withdrawing applications to Virginia universities, at a possible cost of $20 million in lost tuition.

    The Commonwealth argued that the ban violated the due process and equal protection rights of Virginia residents. 

    A Justice Department lawyer argued that Virginia failed to show any immediate harm from the ban. He accused Virginia of suing simply over a policy dispute with the Trump administration. 

    Brinkema pressed the attorney several times to explain the national security reason for the ban. 

    "The court has been begging you to give us some information ... You haven't given us any evidence whatsoever." 

    George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf explained why he believes government lawyers did not respond to the judge's demand.

    "The government is taking a very extreme position -- interestingly, the same extreme one that Obama took -- and that is that their orders in this area are completely unreviewable. They don't have to tell anyone anything," he said via FaceTime. "But if they would step down from that high horse, there are very ample justifications."

    Virginia continues to stake its challenge on the claim that the travel ban is causing "irreparable" harm to students and faculty from the seven countries who no longer feel free to travel home or do scholarly work abroad.

    "There are hundreds and perhaps thousands in Virginia right now who are negatively impacted by the travel ban because if they leave, their visas will be revoked, and it is creating real, concrete, tangible harm right now," Herring said.

    Brinkema said she will issue a written ruling in the case "as soon as possible."