The state of Washington is suing President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, and several high-ranking Trump officials over the Friday night executive order banning refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Trump's executive order—which blocks refugees and citizens of these countries from entering the US for three to four months but bans Syrian refugees indefinitely—caused chaos at airports across the country when travelers were detained by Customs and Border Protection or sent on flights back to their countries of origin.
The lawsuit, which Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said will be filed in US District Court in Seattle later today, is the first of its kind. It seeks a declaration from a federal judge overturning much of the executive order as "illegal and unconstitutional," Ferguson said at a morning press conference in downtown Seattle. As part of the suit, the AG's office is also filing a temporary restraining order that would block the executive order from being enforced at airports across the country.
"What this lawsuit is about is that [the executive order is] unconstitutional," Ferguson said. "It violates the rule of law and I will not put up with it."
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, standing beside Ferguson, was also unequivocal about his interpretation of the Trump administration's executive order.
"Its impact, its cruelty, its clear purpose is an unconscionable religious test, and its effect in America is that it's unconstitutional," he said. "The clear intent of this executive order is to discriminate against one faith amongst all God's children."
The lawsuit claims that the Trump administration's executive order violates the Fifth Amendment's equal protection clause, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as due process. It differs from the narrow emergency stay issued over the weekend by Federal Judge Ann Donnelly of New York because it seeks a broader freeze on enforcing the executive order as well as a substantive ruling on the constitutionality of the executive order itself.
"The claims here that are being raised by Washington state, by the ACLU, and by many other litigants across the country are very strong," said Kathryn Watts, a professor of law at the University of Washington. "They have a significant likelihood of success on the merits. There are serious constitutional issues raised here in terms of equal protection, First Amendment principles, and also serious statutory issues."
First, though, the state must prove that it's the right party to bring this sort of lawsuit. This requires that the AG show that the executive order is doing harm to the state, a point that Inslee brought up repeatedly with regards to economic consequences suffered by Washington-based companies. As part of the AG's suit, Amazon and Expedia provided declarations outlining some of these effects.
When asked if the state feared retribution from the Trump administration, both Ferguson and Inslee insisted that they would not be intimidated or bullied into backing down.
"President Trump may have his alternative facts, but alternative facts do not work in a courtroom," Inslee said.
Attorney General Ferguson said that he will be looking into legal options regarding the Trump administration's executive order punishing local governments of sanctuary cities, too.
Both officials also repeated that rule of law was key for checking the power of the executive branch. But one of the major concerns that surfaced over the weekend was how a judicial ruling might be enforced if law enforcement agencies at airports (and elsewhere) follow orders from the executive branch instead. If a court rules in the state's favor, what if the Trump administration disregards the ruling?
"Hopefully it won't come to that," Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell told The Stranger. (He later added that he hadn't slept in 72 hours.) "If it came to that, we would have to seek options like seeking a contempt order, but that's a ways down the road."
At the end of the press conference, a packed room full of AG employees gave Ferguson and the staffers who worked over the weekend on the lawsuit a standing ovation. At least one person clapping was in tears.
"We're the people's attorney," Ferguson said. "This lawsuit, in my view, lends a voice to people in the state of Washington who see what's going on and have concerns about it."