rulings
March 30, 2020

Federal judges in Ohio and Texas on Monday blocked abortion bans enacted earlier this month amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

After the Ohio Department of Health temporarily suspended all "non-essential and elective surgeries" in order to avoid shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), Ohio Attorney General David Yost (R) said that meant abortions had to be "immediately" stopped. Texas did the same thing a few days later, with Gov. Greg Abbott (R) telling doctors to hold off on procedures that were not medically necessary and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) saying that included "any type of abortion."

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin halted Texas' temporary ban, saying the order would cause patients to "suffer serious and irreparable harm." He also said the Supreme Court has "spoken clearly" on "a woman's right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion," and there "can be no outright ban on such a procedure."

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett said Ohio was unable to prove that performing surgical abortions would "result in any beneficial amount of net saving of PPE in Ohio such that the net saving of PPE outweighs the harm of eliminating abortion." Catherine Garcia

March 1, 2020

A federal judge on Sunday ruled that President Trump's appointment last year of Ken Cuccinelli to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was unlawful.

In June, Cuccinelli, an immigration hardliner, was named the agency's principal deputy director, but because the director of USCIS had just resigned, he immediately became the acting director. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Honduran immigrants, arguing the Trump administration violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act when Cuccinelli was put in charge of the USCIS.

U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss agreed, and ruled that Cuccinelli did not have the legal authority to change U.S. asylum policies, and memorandums he signed need to be set aside. In July, Cuccinelli issued memos announcing that the agency was reducing the amount of time asylum seekers have to find legal representation and prohibiting them from seeking extensions to prepare for their credible-fear interviews.

Cuccinelli is now the Department of Homeland Security's acting deputy secretary. Catherine Garcia

February 28, 2020

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that former White House counsel Don McGahn can defy a congressional subpoena that sought to compel him to testify and turn over documents related to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump administration's possible obstruction of justice, reports The Washington Post.

President Trump had blocked McGahn from complying with the subpoena. The Justice Department argued courts should not be involved in such "interbranch disputes," and Congress can conduct oversight "without dragging judges into the fray," reports HuffPost's Ryan Reilly. The court agreed.

The argument was the opposite of what attorneys said during Trump's impeachment trial; at that time Trump's legal team said subpoenas for executive branch witnesses should be handled in court. The White House has argued its advisers are "absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony."

Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

September 9, 2019

A federal judge on Monday reinstated a nationwide injunction that prohibits the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants who come to the United States without first trying to claim asylum in any of the other countries they traveled through.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar in California said because there is an ongoing court case, the policy cannot be executed anywhere along the southern border. The Trump administration announced the new policy on July 16, and under an earlier ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the administration could impose the restrictions in California or Arizona, but not Texas and New Mexico.

The Supreme Court is now considering the policy, and a ruling is expected sometime this week. "Immigration and border security policy cannot be run by any single district court judge who decides to issue a nationwide injunction," the White House said in a statement. "This ruling is a gift to human smugglers and traffickers and undermines the rule of law." Catherine Garcia

September 4, 2019

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the Terrorist Screening Database, which contains the names of people designated as "known or suspected terrorists," violates the rights of American citizens on the watchlist.

In 2017, there were about 1.2 million people on the list, which is maintained by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center and used by several agencies; roughly 4,600 were U.S. citizens. People on the watchlist can have their travel restricted, and they go through more scrutiny at airports. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security use the database to screen potential terrorism suspects, but Judge Anthony Trenga in Virginia found that "the risk of erroneous deprivation of plaintiffs' travel-related and reputational liberty interests is high, and the currently existing procedural safeguards are not sufficient to address that risk."

The lawsuit was filed by 19 U.S. citizens who said they had been detained and harassed while trying to enter the United States, and did not know why they were on the list. They argued that their due process rights were violated, and Trenga said that the way things are now, their rights are not protected. He asked the Justice Department and plaintiffs' lawyers to submit briefings on "what kind of remedy can be fashioned to adequately protect a citizen's constitutional rights while not unduly compromising public safety or national security." Catherine Garcia

July 24, 2019

A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration's new rule blocking asylum claims for most Central American migrants.

Under the policy, announced July 15, migrants would be required to apply for asylum in the first country they arrive in on their way to the United States, and must be denied there before being able to apply in the U.S. As most migrants arriving at the southern border are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, a majority would have to apply for asylum in Mexico. Exceptions are made for victims of "severe" human trafficking and immigrants whose asylum applications were rejected by other countries.

In his ruling, Judge Jon S. Tigar in San Francisco wrote the "new rule is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws here," adding the government's decision to enact it was "arbitrary and capricious." Earlier in the day, a federal judge in Washington hearing a separate challenge to the policy ruled the restrictions could stay in place, but under Tigar's order, the rule cannot be carried out until there is more debate surrounding its legal issues. The Trump administration argued the policy makes it harder for people to scam the asylum system. Catherine Garcia

June 10, 2019

A judge ruled on Monday that the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, can stay open until the state's Department of Health and Senior Services makes a decision on its license.

This is the only health center providing abortions in Missouri. Judge Michael Stelzer issued the preliminary injunction, writing in his decision that the Department of Health and Senior Services has until June 21 to determine whether to renew Planned Parenthood's license. Last month, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis sued the state after being told its license wouldn't be renewed until officials spoke with five physicians who used to work at the clinic.

"Today's decision is a clear victory for our patients — and for people across Missouri — but the threat to safe, legal abortion in the state of Missouri and beyond is far from over," Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement. "We've seen just how closely anti-health politicians came to ending abortion care for an entire state. We are in a state of emergency for women's health in America." Catherine Garcia

June 3, 2019

A federal judge on Monday rejected a request from House Democrats to stop President Trump from spending unappropriated funds on his southern border wall.

Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington, D.C., said the House does not have the proper legal standing to sue the president, but does have "several political arrows in its quiver to counter perceived threats to its sphere of power. These tools show that this lawsuit is not a last resort for the House."

The lawsuit states that by transferring funds appropriated for other matters to the wall project, Trump is violating the Constitution's Appropriations Clause. In May, a judge in California issued a preliminary injunction that blocked Trump from using funds designated for the military to replace 51 miles of fence along the border. In that case, the lawsuits were brought by states and advocacy groups. Catherine Garcia

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