By Eugene Kontorovich, The Washington Post:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has just upheld a nationwide temporary injunction on President Trump’s executive order relating to refugees and visas from certain countries. I think the court’s opinion is weak in most respects, but I will address one of the most interesting and potentially far-reaching aspects.
Generally, the president has vast discretion in issuing visas. One of the major arguments against the executive order is that while in principle a president can limit immigration from the seven affected countries, it would be unconstitutional for President Trump in particular to do so, because in his case the action is motivated by impermissible religious bias. The central exhibit for this argument is his campaign statements about a “Muslim ban.”
While the 9th Circuit did not address this at great length, focusing instead on due-process arguments, it did accept the basic validity of the form of the states’ argument. “The States’ claims raise serious allegations and present significant constitutional questions,” wrote the court.
There is absolutely no precedent for courts looking to a politician’s statements from before he or she took office, let alone campaign promises, to establish any kind of impermissible motive. The 9th Circuit fairly disingenuously cites several Supreme Court cases that show “that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.” But the cases it mentions do nothing more than look at legislative history — the formal process of adopting the relevant measure. That itself goes too far for textualists, but it provides absolutely no support for looking before the start of the formal deliberations on the measure to the political process of electing its proponents.
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