Matt Zapotosky reports in the Washington Post:
“Legal analysts and opponents say the Justice Department is likely pursuing a more methodical, strategic approach in hopes of a long-term victory — although in the process, the administration is hurting its case that the order is needed for urgent national security.
“If they don’t try to move the case as quickly as possible,” said Leon Fresco, deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, “it does undermine the security rationale.”
Trump’s new travel order — which suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and blocked the issuance of new visas to citizens of Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Somalia and Syria for 90 days — was supposed to take effect March 16, but U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii blocked the administration from enforcing the critical sections of it. Early the next day, a federal judge in Maryland issued a similar ruling — leaving the administration with two different cases, in two different appellate circuits, that they would need to get overturned before they could begin carrying out the president’s directive. All roads seemed to lead to the Supreme Court.
But now it seems all but certain that the president’s revised entry ban will stay suspended at least into April, and possibly longer.
Lawyers for the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal in the Maryland case a day after the judge there ruled, but — unlike last time — they did not ask the higher court to immediately set aside the freeze on the new ban. They said they will do so Friday, but those challenging the ban will have a week to respond, and the Justice Department will then be allowed to file more written arguments by April 5.
The Trump administration has been content to let the court battle play out even more slowly in Hawaii, not elevating the dispute beyond a lower-court judge. The Justice Department has not filed a notice of its intent to appeal the ruling, and the next hearing in that case is set for March 29. Justice Department lawyers wrote Thursday that they would appeal to a higher court if that hearing doesn’t resolve in their favor. The courts will ultimately have to decide important questions, including how much authority they have to weigh in on the president’s national security determinations, whether Trump’s order was meant to discriminate against Muslims, and whether and how the president’s and his advisers’ own comments can be used against them.
There could be strategic reasons for pumping the brakes. Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said the Justice Department might be hoping for a favorable ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, of which Maryland is a part, before they bring a case before the 9th Circuit, of which Hawaii is a part. A three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit unanimously rejected the administration’s bid to restore Trump’s first entry ban after it was frozen. The 4th Circuit on Thursday scheduled oral argument in its case for May 8.
And the Justice Department could be playing an even longer game, hoping that by the time the case makes its way to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch will have joined the justices and brought to an end what many see as a 4-to-4 split along ideological lines, said Jonathan E. Meyer, a former deputy general counsel in the Department of Homeland Security under Obama who now works in private practice at Sheppard Mullin.”
Even assuming that the Supremes eventually take the case, by no means a “gimme,” it probably would not be heard by the Court until some time in 2018 with a decision perhaps months after the argument. During that time, it is highly likely that the Travel Ban will remain enjoined.
From a government standpoint, it’s always prudent to 1) think carefully before taking on issues that can be litigated in U.S. District Courts which have authority to issue nationwide injunctions which require only a preliminary showing and are very difficult to “undo” (by contrast, “Removal Cases” usually can only be litigated in Circuit Courts of Appeal, which, although higher on the “judicial totem pole” than USDCs, lack authority to issue nationwide injunctions in connection with such individual case judicial review); and 2) always have “Plan B.” Here, “Plan B” might be the more stringent requirements for screening and issuing visas from countries where terrorist activity has taken place set forth in Secretary of State Tillerson’s recent instructions discussed in my previous blog: