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Federal Judge Who Blocked Trump’s Travel Ban Speaks at Cornell Law School

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, who blocked President Trump’s first travel ban, told students and faculty at Cornell Law School that Robart believes the president was out of line when he referred to him as a “so-called judge.”

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart

The day after Robart granted a motion for a temporary restraining order last February 3, blocking the president’s travel ban, Trump tweeted: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

While noting that the White House subsequently redacted the word “ridiculous,” Robart said Trump’s attack should not have singled out the judge. “I think the president has every right to criticize judicial opinions,” Robart said. “He’s a citizen, and he’s the president.” But, “he should not use the phrase ‘so-called judge.'” This led his Twitter followers to think “I was not ever nominated and confirmed by the Senate or I was somehow acting outside my judicial role. That’s something that I do have a problem with.”

Robart was nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by President George W. Bush in 2003. He was one of five judges to visit Cornell Law School to judge a Moot Court competition focused on the travel ban.

In his October 27 talk, marked by candor, Robart said, “I am not embarrassed to say that I was selected by President George W. Bush.” But thinking the president who appointed a judge will predict the judge’s rulings is dangerous. “We swear to follow the Constitution, not an individual president.”

Robart said he blocked Trump’s first travel ban for several reasons, including his belief that the ban violated federal law. He noted that in 1965, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 by adding a clause that stipulated that the United States could not discriminate against immigrants based on country of origin.

Trump’s original travel ban would have prevented citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. After Robart issued a temporary restraining order against the ban, Trump proposed two other revised versions of the executive order, both of which have been blocked by the courts.

Another factor that led to Robart’s ruling was his determination that Trump’s initial executive order lacked a factual basis for imposing a travel ban. “One of the things that’s relatively unique about this first executive order is the fact that it doesn’t have much by way of factual support,” Robart said. “The reason for that is we now know that it was not vetted by any of the other government agencies.”

Robart’s ruling on the travel ban was made in a case brought by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who argued that the government’s action was unconstitutional. In his talk, Robart questioned a phrase in Trump’s order that said “persecuted religious minorities” would be given priority when immigration from the seven countries resumed.

“If you look behind this pure language behind the act, you have to ask yourself, ‘Are we now favoring Christians as part of the immigration bill?'” Robart said.

Robert said he was scheduled to hold a preliminary injunction hearing on what he called “Travel Ban 3.0,” three days after his talk at Cornell. By the time that hearing took place on October 30, two federal judges from Maryland and Hawaii had blocked parts of Trump’s most recent attempt to bar citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

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