President Donald Trump's new immigration order targeting six Muslim-majority countries was dealt another legal blow Thursday when a federal judge in Maryland rejected one of its key components.
The executive action, a “watered-down version of the first one” according to Trump, violates federal law by blocking new visa issuance, Judge Theodore D. Chuang said in his ruling.
Chuang was not convinced that the new version was any different in deliberately targeting a religious group.
Its purpose "remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban", he said.
"The Trump Administration acknowledged that the core substance of the First Executive Order remained intact," Chuang added.
The new executive order would stop new visas being issued to residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. It excludes Iraq, designated in the original version that was signed a week into Trump’s presidency.
It further seeks to stop all refugees from coming to the U.S. for 120 days, and more than halves the number of asylum seekers who would be granted U.S. entry this year.
Judge Chuang’s words echo those of another federal judge in Hawaii who on Wednesday issued a restraining order on the executive action hours before it was to go into effect.
Judge Derrick Watson criticized the “illogic” of the administration’s argument that the order's limited scope and religiously neutral text meant it could not be interpreted as banning Muslims.
Watson further said Hawaii has a "strong likelihood of success" on its case that Trump's order violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which protects against religious discrimination.
Both judges notably cited remarks by the president and his aides as evidence that what Trump sought was, in fact, a Muslim ban.
They quoted presidential candidate Trump as telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year, “I think Islam hates us”, among other statements.
Trump told supporters in Tennessee on Wednesday that he "wasn't thrilled" when lawyers suggested "tailoring" the first executive action after it was blocked in court.
“And let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way – which is what I want to do in the first place,” he said.
Trump slammed Wednesday's ruling, calling it an “unprecedented judicial overreach”.
Thursday’s decision by Chuang involves a preliminary injunction, a more robust measure that will last through a trial process.
The Justice Department said after the ruling in Hawaii it will continue to defend the ban in court, saying it "strongly disagrees" with the decision "which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope".