The Seattle judge who issued a temporary “nationwide restraining order” that blocks Donald Trump’s immigration ban is a George W. Bush nominee who once provoked controversy by saying “black lives matter” from the bench.
The ruling came down from federal judge James Robart. CNN called the ruling a “significant setback” for Trump, whose executive order halted all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries with records of terrorism activity. Here’s the crucial part of the judge’s order (see the full decision later in this story):
The White House called Robart’s ruling “outrageous” (before reissuing the press release without the word outrageous in it) and said it would file for an emergency stay of the Robart decision.
Trump called Robart a “so-called judge.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sought the ruling; the plaintiffs were the states of Washington and Minnesota. Ferguson’s office said the judge granted “Ferguson’s request to immediately halt implementation of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration nationwide.” Ferguson is arguing, in part, that Trump’s executive order violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection.
The judge’s decision says he granted the temporary restraining order because the states are “likely to succeed on the merits of the claims;” were likely to “suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief;” and because “a TRO is in the public interest.” Robart will rule at a later point on whether to permanently stop the Trump order.
The judge’s ruling says 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.” The residents of the states are affected “adversely” in the areas of “employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel,” the judge’s order says.
Trump’s controversial ban, which has provoked protests around the country, also suffered a blow in Detroit, when a federal judge there, Bill Clinton nominee Victoria Roberts, ruled against part of it. In Boston, though, Trump’s order found support from judge Nathaniel Gorton, a George W. Bush appointee, who wrote that the ban did not discriminate against Muslims. Gorton also ruled that there “is no constitutionally protected interest in either obtaining or continuing to possess a visa” and that the issue was largely the domain of the executive branch. The flurry of decisions comes on the heels of a New York judge/Barack Obama appointee granting an emergency stay of parts of Trump’s order, and it highlights even more so the importance of the president’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Robart’s decision has the most impact yet.
Who is Robart? What’s his background?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Robart Was Nominated to the Bench by a Republican President & Now Has Senior Status
Robart has been a federal judge since 2004, serving the Western District of Washington, according to his judicial biography.
The bio says Robart was nominated for appointment as a federal judge on December 11, 2003. Robart was confirmed by the Senate on June 17, 2004.
According to Ballotpedia, Robart “joined the court in 2004 after being nominated by President George W. Bush. He assumed senior status on June 28, 2016.”
Ballotpedia reports that Robart’s nomination received a 99-0 positive vote in the U.S. Senate.
2. Robart Declared ‘Black Lives Matter’ in a Previous Hearing in Which He Ruled Against a Police Union
The judge has provoked controversy before. According to the Seattle Times, Robart declared “black lives matter” in a court hearing last August in which he decided against a Seattle police union.
The Seattle newspaper reported that Robart was presiding over “a 2012 consent decree requiring the city to adopt reforms to address Department of Justice allegations of excessive force and biased policing.” He “called for major changes that would directly affect the union’s membership: streamlined appeals of officer discipline and internal investigations conducted by civilians rather than sworn officers,” the newspaper reported.
At the end of the hearing, according to the Seattle Times, Judge Robart then became “deeply personal,” noting “a statistic that showed, nationally, 41 percent of the shootings by police were of blacks, when they represented 20 percent of the population” and referencing high-profile police shootings.
You can watch the video above; in it, the judge grows emotional, shaking his head and sighing.
Before becoming a federal judge, Robart had spent his career in private law practice. According to his judicial bio, Robart was a lawyer from 1973 through 1996 with Lane Powell Moss & Miller. He was co-managing partner from 1997-2002 at Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, and managing partner there from 2003-2004.
The judge has a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center (1973), where he was administrative editor of the Georgetown Law Journal. He has a bachelor’s degree from Whitman College.
In another police-related case, according to Above the Law, Robart doubled the city payout to people whose dog was tasered by the police, accusing the city lawyers of “terrible writing” and denying the city lawyer’s claim the people were “persecuted.” He wrote, “The treatment of the Jews by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, that was a persecution. What Nazi Germany did in the Third Reich, that is a persecution.”
He also brought up “the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia by the British; the treatment of the Aboriginal people in Australia; ethnic cleansing,” the site reported.
3. Robart’s Order Bans Federal Employees From Enacting Trump’s Executive Order
The Seattle Times reported that the attorney general had sought to invalidate key provisions of Trump’s executive order.
The judge’s ruling prohibits “federal employees from enforcing Trump’s order,” according to the Seattle Times, and Robart made it clear he meant his ruling to apply nationally. You can read Robart’s order here:
The judge stressed that he was aware that “the work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution.”
Ferguson, the state attorney general, declared, “The Constitution prevailed today,” the newspaper reported. See the AG’s lawsuit here:
According to the UK Daily Mail, Robart asked the government’s lawyer “if there had been any terrorist attacks by people from the seven counties listed in Trump’s order since 9/11. (The lawyer) said she didn’t know.”
The Daily Mail reported that Robart responded, “You’re here arguing we have to protect from these individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that.”
After the judge’s order, at least one airline reportedly deleted its travel warning for passengers.
According to the release from Ferguson, the stoppage is temporary – at least for now. “The Temporary Restraining Order will remain in place until…Robart considers the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging key provisions of the President’s order as illegal and unconstitutional. If Ferguson prevails, the Executive Order would be permanently invalidated nationwide,” the release said.
4. The Judge Was Involved in Community Volunteerism & Numerous Legal Committees
According to his biography, Robart serves as chair of the Board of Trustees and former chair for the Board of Overseers for Whitman College. The judge was born in Seattle, Washington in 1947. Reaction on Twitter to his ruling on the immigration ban was divisive, with people breaking down into the predictable polarized camps (see above tweet).
He’s also former president and trustee for Seattle Children’s Home; former co-chair of the Second Century Society; he has served on the Children’s Home Society of Washington; and he was on the State Advisory Board and served as a former trustee for Children’s Home Society of Washington.
Robart also served on a number of legal oriented committees. They include: Member, Ninth Circuit IT Committee, 2007-2009; Ninth Circuit Advisory Board, 2002-2005; Lawyer Representative, Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, 1993-1995; Board of Governors, Federal Circuit Bar Association, 1985-1986; Organizing Committee, Federal Circuit Bar Association, 1983-1984; Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers; Fellow, American Bar Foundation Member; and Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society.
5. Other Judges Have Ruled on the Immigration Ban, Coming to Different Conclusions
One ruling came down from a federal judge, Victoria Roberts, in Detroit. According to the Detroit News, Roberts “issued a permanent court order that ensures protections for U.S. residents traveling to and from the United States.” She issued a restraining order protecting green card holders, the newspaper said, even though Trump’s administration said, after initial confusion, that his ban doesn’t apply to them.
The newspaper said the plaintiffs in the Detroit case are “an immigrant who was issued a visa to enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident, a U.S. citizen whose nine-year-old son was denied a visa to join his family in the United States and the Arab American Civil Rights League.”
In Boston, Judge Nathaniel Gorton “refused to extend a temporary order that allowed some people affected by Trump’s ban to enter the country,” reported USA Today.
In direct contrast to Robart, Gorton ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims,” so “an extension of the restraining order at the present time is not warranted,” reported WBUR.
You can read Gorton’s full decision here.
In part, Gorton ruled that some of the plaintiffs’ claims were “moot” because of “the government’s clarification that the EO will not be applied to lawful permanent residents.” As to the others’, the judge found, “The decision to prevent aliens from entering the country is a ‘fundamental sovereign attribute’ realized through the legislative and executive branches that is ‘largely immune from judicial control.’”
Gorton rejected the argument that Trump’s ban discriminates against Muslims by giving preference to minority religions in the Muslim-majority countries covered by the ban. He wrote, “The provisions of Section 5, however, could be invoked to give preferred refugee status to a Muslim individual in a country that is predominately Christian. Nothing in Section 5 compels a finding that Christians are preferred to any other group.”
A New York judge previously issued an emergency stay requiring that the government not send people detained at airports back to their home countries.