As authorities in Britain scrambled to respond to the knife and truck attacks in the heart of London Saturday night, President Trump’s immediate response was to publicly demand the courts reinstate his executive order restricting travel from six largely Muslim nations. “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough,” tweeted Trump at about 7 p.m. Eastern Time — before news outlets had been able to confirm any significant details about the incident. “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”
The Justice Department last week asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the president’s executive order, appealing a lower court’s ruling that upheld a nationwide block of it.
Throughout the legal setbacks the Trump administration has faced on the issue is a consistent theme: judges have pointed to the words of both the president and his advisors in order to rule that the policy has more to do with religious animus toward Muslims than protecting national security.
Central to the administration’s case has been the claim that the order is not a ban but rather a temporary change of vetting rules designed to protect national security. Press secretary Sean Spicer neatly summed up their case in January, shortly after the chaotic rollout of the original policy. “It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban,” said Spicer. “It’s a vetting system to keep America safe.” The courts have consistently disagreed, with the administration’s own words coming back to haunt them time and again. After Trump signed a more delicately-worded second executive order on the subject in March in an attempt to resolve the legal troubles of the original ban, a judge in Hawaii pointed to the words of senior adviser Stephen Miller. In an interview with Fox News, Miller claimed that while the order had been tweaked to respond to judges’ issues, “fundamentally you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been fighting the immigration order, noted Trump’s word choice:
In its appeal to the Supreme Court to hear the case, the administration sought to address this by making the same case that its lawyers have made in the lower courts: that statements the president made as a candidate, before he took the presidential oath, should not be considered. “Without campaign materials, the court of appeals’ analysis collapses,” acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall wrote in his high court request.
But in his unfiltered response to Saturday’s presumed terrorist incidents in London, which also featured a retweet — and with it an apparent presidential endorsement — of unsubstantiated claims from conservative rumor site Drudge Report, President Trump has once again seemed to undermine his own administration’s case.
Trump’s tweet came before any official confirmation that the incidents were a terror attack, let alone information on the nationalities of the attackers. It may be hard to argue that the executive order is designed simply to protect national security against “bad dudes” from a select group of countries when the president declares a need for the “travel ban” as a response to actions by people whose nationality he is surely unaware of.