Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Friday to appeal a federal judge's ruling late Thursday that the Trump administration’s implementation of its travel ban impacting citizens of six Muslim-majority nations is “unduly restrictive,” and that the government’s definition of “close familial relationship” contradicts the Supreme Court order that exempted visa applicants who could establish a “bona fide” relationship with citizens or entities of the United States.
U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii, who in March was the first to issue a nationwide injunction against the second iteration of the travel ban, rebuked the administration’s position that created a narrow list of “family relations that it claims satisfies” the standards laid out by the Supreme Court.
The administration’s interpretation, Watson wrote, "represents the antithesis of common sense."
In a statement Friday, Sessions expressed disappointment at the decision, invoking the administration's partial success in overturning Watson's earlier ruling on the ban.
"The Supreme Court has had to correct this lower court once, and we will now reluctantly return directly to the Supreme Court to again vindicate the rule of law and the Executive Branch's duty to protect the nation," said Sessions.
The impact of the court decision
Judge Watson’s order means that the administration must now significantly expand the list of family relationships that would allow visa applicants to get around the travel ban.
Following the Supreme Court decision in June, the government had provided guidance to U.S. consular officials worldwide, with a list of exemptions that included only parents, parents-in-law, spouses, children, fiancé/ées, adult sons and daughters, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings and step-relationships.
The State of Hawaii challenged that interpretation as too narrow - and Judge Watson agreed - entering a revised preliminary injunction that prohibits the administration from applying the travel ban to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, grandchildren and grandparents.
“Common sense,” Watson wrote, “dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”
Critics of the administration’s policy, which some had derisively dubbed a “Grandma Ban,” hailed Watson’s decision.
“The federal district court clarified for the country what almost every grandchild, niece, and extended family member has long known: that grandmothers, aunts and other family members are invaluable members of our families and communities, and should be treated as such,” wrote Karen Tumlin, the Legal Director of the National Immigration Law Center in a statement.
Watson also ruled that the government cannot exclude would-be refugees who have assurances from a resettlement agency within the United States, even if their admission would result in exceeding the 50,000 annual cap of refugees outlined in the executive order.
What happens next
In advance of Watson’s ruling, the Trump administration indicated that it may challenge any order that went against them. The Department of Justice asked the judge, if he ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, to hold enforcing it in order to avoid “significant confusion as the government continues to implement the Executive Order consistent with court orders.”
Watson declined to hold off on his decision, so the order was effective immediately.
Sessions' announcement Friday that the Justice Department will go directly to the Supreme Court will likely come in the form of a request for clarification of its order on the travel ban, as was outlined in court filings last week.