On Friday, a Boston federal judge issued a 21 page decision debunking the arguments against Trump’s Executive Order suspending migration from certain countries pending further review. Later that same day, a Seattle federal judge who has been making the news lately (and not usually for the most flattering of reasons), declared his oral intention to sign an order limiting some aspects of the executive order. In the courtroom, whose position is likely to ultimately win?
Just a quick review of the two written orders can tell you which one is likely to win. The Boston judge cited a wide range of precedents for his decision in his detailed written order. The Seattle judge issued a short order devoid of almost any reference to any precedent, which is the “evidence” for lawyers on the law. Add in comments made by the Seattle judge verbally, and if any aspect of that is correct, the Seattle judge’s opinion will lose, and Trump’s position will win.
Both judges appeared to reject the position of many critics: both appeared to reject the position the First Amendment prohibits the order; both appeared to reject the position the Fifth Amendment prohibits the order; both appeared to reject the position that Congressional statutes prohibit the order. Both appeared to reject claims the order discriminated on the basis of speech or religion in any way that immigration law precludes or forbids. Instead, both agreed all that mattered is whether the laws had a “rational basis.”
Here is where the Boston judge and the Seattle judge appeared to disagree. According to reports of what was said at oral argument in Seattle, the Seattle judge believes rational basis review requires the law-making branches of government “prove” with “facts” presented in court that their position is the correct one. As the Boston judge noted, this interpretation of the law — inviting the judicial branch to replace the elected branches of government — is directly contrary to precedent. This is why the Seattle judge’s opinion is likely to lose out ultimately, and Trump’s will prevail.
As the Boston judge explained, the Supreme Court provided that rational basis review merely means the law “bears some fair relationship to a legitimate public purpose.” The Supreme Court made clear rational basis review “is not a license for courts to judge the wisdom, fairness or logic of legislative choices.” (Heller v. Doe by Doe, 509 U.S. 312 (1993).
Immigration law includes a “delicate policy judgment” courts must not invade, as the Supreme Court itself said, and the Boston judge reiterated. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). As the Ninth Circuit reiterated, “we defer to the political branches in the immigration field.” Ruiz-Diaz v. United States, 703 F.3d 483 (9th Cir. 2012). As the Boston court noted, the order clearly and expressly relates to concern of “infiltration by foreign terrorists” from countries identified as a risk for just that without further vetting procedures put in place. Rational basis review “is not a genuine effort to determine the actual reasons for the law, nor to inquire into whether a statute actually does further the announced interest of government. All that is required is a) does a government interest exist in securing the country from terror?; and b) does the law limiting entrants purport to relate to that interest? It does not matter if the judge thinks it shouldn’t relate or won’t relate. That decision is for the lawmaker, not the law interpreter.
The Seattle judge seemed to believe no such vetting process was “rational” unless facts showed a foreign terror incident had already successfully occurred in this country. (Even under higher levels of scrutiny, the courts have never required the evil sought to be prevented actually occur before passing law to try to prevent it from occurring in the first place.) This is second-guessing law-making decisions, not seeing whether there was a “reason” given as the “basis” for the decision, which is all rational basis review allows in our tri-partite form of government.
Second-guessing Trump’s decision is for elections, not judges. The Supreme Court long ago rejected such second-guessing as impermissible. The Boston’s judge’s thoughtful and deliberate decision follows the precedents, as the law compels. The Seattle judge’s decision tries to substitute for the legislative branches, which the law condemns. In the ultimate outcome of these decisions, memories of Super Bowls past will prove prescient: Like the Patriots, Boston will best Seattle once again