Washington v. Donald Trump : A brief discussion of the District Judge’s injunction-order against President Trump.

This is a brief discussion of the US District Court’s decision in State of Washington, et al v. Donald J.Trump, et al.  The decision is an excellent specimen of how an injunction order should be written. It’s simply worded, avoids conclusive adjudication, appreciates the test of grant of injunctiv relief clearly.

The case as you all must have read in the papers is a lawsuit which challenges the lawfulness and constitutionality of Executive Order 13769, an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States“. In a nutshell, the order limited the number of refugee arrivals to the U.S. to 50,000 for 2017. The order also indefinitely suspended the entry of Syrian refugees. Further, the order suspended the entry of alien nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days, after which an updated list will be made.

The order was challenged by the State of Washington on the following grounds inter-alia:

a) that it violates the fifth amendment of the US Constitution (concerning equal protection under the laws);

b) It was also challenged on the anvil of ‘due process rights’ (right to be treated justly, fairly and reasonably).

c) It gave President unlimited authority to pass any Executive orders for so-called National Security and this order made his decisions practically unreviewable and beyond judicial scrutiny.

d) The last leg of the challenge argued that it gave primacy to one religion over the other and discriminated against Islam and was therefore, unconstitutional. (First amendment to US constitution which guarantees freedom and equal treatment of religions) 

It was with respect to the above grounds that the States of Washington and Minnesota had sought declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant Donald Trump. Declaration was sought seeking invalidation of portions of Executive Order issued by the defendant entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States) and injunction against its operation. The plaintiffs had also sought a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”).

The court firstly discussed that the standard for issuing a TRO is the same as the standard for issuing a preliminary injunction. The Court held that “proper legal standard for preliminary injunctive relief requires a party to demonstrate (1) that he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favour, and (4) that an injunction is in public interest.  

The court further noted that “as an alternative to this test, a preliminary injunction is appropriate if serious questions going to the merits were raised and the balance of hardships tips sharply in favour of plaintiff, thereby allowing the preservation of the status quo when complex legal questions require further inspection or deliberation.  Court  further noted that ‘the moving party must bear the burden of persuasion and must make a clear case showing that it is entitled to such relief.

After setting this benchmark, the court found :

“that the States have satisfied these standards and the court should issue a TRO…..The court finds that the States have met the burden of demonstrating that they face immediate and irreparable injury as a result of signing and implementation of executive order. The executive order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders. In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States’ operations, tax bases and public funds. These harms are significant and ongoing. Accordingly, the court concludes that a TRO against Federal Defendants is necessary until such time as the Court can hear and decide the States’ request for a preliminary injunction.

With these observations the court went on to restrain Donald Trump and other defendants from enforcing the executive order. 

The decision is not only instructive for its clarity, brevity and accurate application of injunction principles but also the fact that it goes on to flag briefly the delicate issue of judicial checks and balances over governmental power rather subtly. While parting the court notes  that the “work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of a particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with the country’s laws and more importantly our Constitution…..The Court concludes that  the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripartite government”

PS : The decision of the District Court was challenged by the Federal Government before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal seeking stay of the operation of the District Court order. The 9th Circuit court vide decision which can be accessed here refused to stay the District Court order with the following reasoning :

The court, quoting the Supreme Court case Nken v. Holder, made clear that “a stay is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury might otherwise result.” Because of this, the court needed to answer four questions under Nken, with the first two being most important: “(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceedings; and (4) where the public interest lies.” The court denied the stay as they found the federal government failed to prove the first two questions, and that the last two tip in favor of the plaintiffs, Washington and Minnesota.

The court ruled that the federal government is unlikely to succeed on the merits against Washington’s due process claim. Though the court discussed Washington State’s contention that the executive order violates the First Amendment prohibition on religious discrimination, they withheld ruling on that claim, as being unlikely to succeed against a due process claim is sufficient to fail the first question.

The federal government failed to provide any  evidence or convincing argument as to why the executive order needed to be enacted with such urgency and as to why an immediate  stay is required. In showing the federal government was unlikely to succeed on the merits against a due process claim, the court argued that it showed the States and their citizens would be irreparably harmed by a stay as “the deprivation of constitutional rights ‘unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.'”  

Comment : Judiciary aspirants shouldy study these decisions carefully not only for the accuracy of their legal reasoning but also for their conciseness and brevity and try and adopt these elements in their own legal writing. 

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