The day after Donald Trump won the presidency, the American Civil Liberties Union put his face on its website alongside four words: See you in court. A little more than a week after Trump assumed the presidency, the ACLU made good on its promise, filing lawsuits with several civil rights groups to block Trump’s immigration executive order. The ACLU won its high-profile New York case—and then it kept on winning. A series of state and federal judges curbed Trump’s order over the weekend, protecting hundreds of lawful immigrants from detention and deportation. The next few days saw still more lawsuits land on district court dockets across the country, all challenging aspects of the Trump travel ban.
This onslaught of suits over a plainly unconstitutional de facto Muslim ban is an important mechanism by which private citizens can limit the damage of an illiberal administration’s attack on immigrants. But they also form a confusing web of overlapping litigation that affects different people in different places. What follows is a rundown of the suits so far. All of them request that the federal judiciary forbid the enforcement of the executive order—either with regard to an individual, a handful of plaintiffs, or the entire class of people affected.
Saturday and Sunday
On Saturday morning, the ACLU, along with the National Immigration Law Center and the International Refugee Assistance Project, filed suit in New York City to halt the deportation of two Iraqi citizens who entered the U.S. on lawful visas. The suit was filed on behalf of the two Iraqi men as well as “others similarly situated,” meaning those being detained or deported solely because of Trump’s order. That evening, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the deportation of anyone detained under the ban. Donnelly’s order, however, applied exclusively to individuals who were already in the U.S. or on their way into the country when Trump signed the ban. It did nothing for the thousands of lawful permanent residents and visa-holders who were still overseas when Trump issued his executive order.
That same day, attorneys filed suit in several other district courts, leading to a flurry of decisions following Donnelly’s. In Virginia, a federal judge ordered Customs and Border Protection to allow the several dozen detainees at Washington Dulles International Airport to speak to attorneys. In Seattle, a federal judge halted the deportation of two men targeted by the ban. And around 2 a.m. Eastern on Sunday, two federal judges in Boston put a seven-day hold on the enforcement of Trump’s order.
On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee forbade the government from deporting an Iranian man with an American visa, only to learn he had already been deported to Dubai. Gee ordered the government to bring the man back to the United States.
All of these rulings were preliminary injunctions; the underlying cases are still ongoing although some of them may now be moot if they involved individuals who have since been freed. The primary legal theory behind these rulings was that the enforcement of Trump’s order deprived lawful immigrants of liberty without due process and targeted them on the basis of religion, or national origin, in violation of equal protection.
With the weekend’s emergencies winding down, civil rights organizations began to consider how they could challenge the ban as a whole rather than its application to a limited group of people. For litigation groups, the next step was to craft lawsuits that would invalidate the executive order in its entirety, protecting the thousands of people it targets who remain stuck overseas. No judge has yet ruled on these broader suits.
Among those lawsuits was one filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Virginia, arguing that the order was motivated by “vulgar animosity” toward Muslims in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, in addition to equal protection. The American Immigration Council, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed a class action in Washington state on behalf of “tens of thousands of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have filed immigrant visa petitions for their immediate family members who are nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries,” alleging violations of due process and equal protection. Washington’s attorney general filed a broad constitutional challenge to the executive order, noting that the travel ban and immigration restrictions would seriously harm its economy.
An Iranian citizen who resides lawfully in the U.S. with his wife and three children also filed suit in Chicago after he was prohibited from buying a ticket home. (The man was visiting his sick mother in Iran.) And attorneys general in Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York all announced that they were joining challenges to the executive order’s legality.
In Denver, a college student from Libya named Zakaria Hagig filed a lawsuit alleging the travel ban violated his constitutional right to travel home to see his family—and return without being detained and deported. In Chicago, Amer al-Homssi, a medical resident and Syrian citizen who has not set foot in his home country since age 17, sued to secure his freedom to return to the United States. (Trump’s order had left al-Homssi stuck in Dubai.) In Philadelphia, attorneys filed suit on behalf of two Christian brothers who were detained upon returning from Syria, then deported. And in Dallas, a suit was filed on behalf of Labeeb Ibrahim Issa, a wheelchair-bound Iraqi citizen traveling to the U.S. on a lawful visa who was detained upon arrival. Officials released Issa after 15 hours of detention.
In California, attorneys sued to protect the rights of dozens of legal permanent residents affected by the order. A federal court quickly issued an order blocking the government from detaining or deporting the plaintiffs, as well as prohibiting the cancellation of the plaintiffs’ visas.
The Arab American Civil Rights League filed suit in Michigan on behalf of multiple green card holders who wish to return to the U.S. in the near future but were not en route when Trump signed the order. Mohammed Tawfeeq, a CNN producer and Iraqi national who was detained in the Atlanta airport on Sunday, sued to have Trump’s order declared illegal to the extent that it applied to green card holders and lawful permanent residents. And the ACLU of Oregon filed suit in Portland on behalf of the social justice group Unite Oregon asking a judge to block the implementation of the order.*
Some of these cases may be dropped or consolidated as they work their way through the courts. At least one may reach the Supreme Court, which may have to decide whether Trump’s executive order unconstitutionally discriminates against Muslims.
Regardless of what happens down the road, these first few waves of litigation are pretty remarkable. Attorneys filed hastily drafted suits in courts across the country—and have not lost a case yet. That winning streak cannot please the man behind this mayhem.
*Update, Feb. 2, 2017: This article has been updated to include an additional lawsuit filed on Wednesday.