History is going to love this corner of our country.
By now you know that the Washington State Attorney General sued the Federal Government of the United States… and won. “This is the first time this administration has been reined in,” notes Governor Jay Inslee. Think about the power of that sentence. Seattle is now being described on national news outlets as “the epicenter of resistance to Trump’s Agenda.”
Which is to say, in the eyes of future generations: the leading edge.
It’s in times like these I’m reminded Seattle began as a frontier town. A place built by strong, willful men who understood that all great things are predicated on a maybe. Port cities are always a little wilder. Picture the prospectors and dreamers with their toughened steel resolve, who knew the meaning of calculated risk and did nothing but fail forward, bolstered by the fight, wrestling this metropolis into existence.
When faced with overwhelming odds, theirs is the ethic that realizes a hope and a prayer. You assemble the resources necessary, with discipline and foreknowledge. Then you execute.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson leads that charge now. Trump signed his executive order on a Friday. Over the weekend, Ferguson and his staff were able to finalize a nine-count lawsuit against the President and file it by Monday. Ferguson’s a former chess champion. Calculated risk, nimble execution. Noah Purcell, once a Franklin High School student, now a 37-year old Harvard Law graduate arguing the issues before the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, calling a spade a spade (see timeline of highlights below).
As for James L. Robart, allow me to take a moment. A Republican federal judge in Seattle appointed by George W. Bush in 2004, and confirmed in a unanimous 99-0 Senate vote, Robart epitomizes the notion that upholding the rule of law need not be a partisan issue. Decency and integrity should transcend the reductively binary nature of our political system. Robart was former president, now trustee, of Seattle Children’s Home, a facility specializing in mental health rehabilitation and care. He was heavily involved with the Children’s Home Society of Washington, which addresses disadvantaged families and their children. He does pro bono work for refugees, to the point he’s become nationally known for it. Also, you’ve heard his words before. In a 2016 hearing, he recounted FBI data, saying, “Police shootings resulting in deaths involved 41 percent black people, despite being only 20 percent of the population living in those cities. Forty-one percent of the casualties, 20 percent people of the population.” He paused before saying, “black lives matter.”
These are the giants of the modern age.
When people in positions of power exercise their ability to help those they represent, the effects are incalculable. When they’re not afraid to make wildly unpopular decisions or embark on potentially career-killing endeavors, they are motivated by something other than getting reelected. Something beyond. The studied, burnished glow of history lasts a lot longer than another term in office. We will one day forget these were ordinary human beings who put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. By then, rightly, we will describe them as taller than they were, deeper in voice; our memories will involve biblical metaphors and descriptions of rooms getting hotter, crowds hushing. These items will not be true in the literal sense, but they will be emotionally accurate. Ours is a time desperately in need of heroes. We’ve just found a few.
Ah, Seattle. Home to Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Google, Weyerhauser, Alaska Airlines, Costco, Microsoft, Expedia, Paccar and more. Twenty-first century American life gets to happen, in part, because of this city. And we’re putting our foot down.
The city that stopped a nationwide ban that involved religious discrimination and violation of due process. Headquarters of the multinational luxury department store that dumped Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Whose Mayor uniquivocally identified the city’s purpose as a sanctuary city and the lengths he is willing to go to sustain that. Whose Governor was unafraid to call a President’s executive order “unjustifiable chaos and cruelty.” Whose lawmakers are developing protocols for shielding sensitive data from the feds, data which could target its Muslim residents. Whose transit managers refused to stop access to a key protest site despite being told to do so.
Home to more than 100 businesses who vocally, enthusiastically lend support during and after these legal proceedings, including many of the above. Starbucks pledging to hire thousands of refugees in explicit response to the ban, and offering free legal advice to its affected employees. Seattle Schools explicitly stating it will never ask for documentation of its students, and will, instead of doing so on federal demand, refer such requests to its attorneys. Whose State Senator specifically thanked all protestors, lawyers, and others who made their voices heard during the Sea-Tac protests. Whose Governor Inslee told the Seattle Times, about the Trump Administration: “These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral. It is a train wreck. It can’t stand. We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac.”
And finally, whose state Attorney General, responding to an angry tweet from Trump (“SEE YOU IN COURT,” etc), replied:
“We’ve seen him in court and we’re two for two.”
You know the outline of the events, but let’s take a moment to review exactly how monumental (can I just go ahead and say glorious?) this stuff really is. Here’s a timeline with highlights I find compelling. (All the information mentioned above can be found in the links included in the following):
On Monday, January 27th, President Trump signs an executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (interestingly, none of them countries of origin for 9/11 terrorists; also, Muslim countries where Trump does business are left off the list), as well as permanently banning Syrian refugees. The order would give preference to Christian immigrants because they have “suffered more so.”
Protests spring up worldwide over the weekend, with a potent one at Sea-Tac involving the Port of Seattle attempting to minimize the protest size by demanding that Metro and Sound Transit halt rail service to Sea-Tac Airport. In a strong statement of their own, heads at Metro and ST revoke their acquiescence of this demand only 33 minutes after doing so, emphatically stating that citizens are allowed to the right to peaceful protest. Although Port of Seattle Police pepper-sprays the crowd, Seattle Police do not do so.
That’s Friday. On Monday, the State of Washington, in the person of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, files a lawsuit against Donald J. Trump and his administration, on the grounds that his executive order is illegal on nine counts.
Also on Monday, Trump fires acting US Attorney General Sally Yates after she refuses to enforce the ban, requiring all relevant staff to essentially ignore its existence, on the grounds that her “responsibility is to ensure that the position of the DoJ (Department of Justice) [is] legally defensible.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit is designed to invalidate the ban nationwide. It isn’t meant to chip away at minor provisions. The aim here is to demolish the ban conclusively. It’s a politically and legally risky move– “daring,” as the New York Times calls it. Bob Ferguson: “This is why you go to law school.”
Minnesota’s AG joins the lawsuit on Thursday, which cites widespread and immediate irreparable harm to state residents, employers, schools, and the economy. Over 100,000 visas are revoked due to the ban. The lawsuit gets fast-tracked to a hearing the next day.
Friday, Seattle. U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart stuns the country by ordering an immediate national halt to enforcement of the ban. Robart’s decision goes out Friday night; federal employees are prohibited from executing the ban’s orders starting Saturday.
Robart does not have to rule on the legality of the ban in his Friday evening decision, but only on these three factors: 1) are the plaintiffs (WA, MN) likely to succeed at a later date; 2) could WA and MN residents suffer irreparable harm if the ban is continued; and 3) is blocking the order in the public’s interest. He didn’t have to rule on the ban’s legality, but he makes comments to that effect nonetheless. Check out this exchange:
Robart: “How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from those seven countries since 9/11?”
“I don’t know the specific details of attacks or planned attacks,” replies Michelle Bennett, the representing Trump attorney.
“The answer to that is none, as best I can tell.”
“The rationale was not only 9/11. It was to protect the United States from the potential for terrorism. The court doesn’t get to look behind those determinations.”
Robart: “[I’m] asked to look and determine if the executive order is rationally based. And rationally based, to some extent, means I have to find it grounded in fact instead of fiction.”
Fact over fiction indeed.
On Saturday, the US Government makes an emergency request at a federal appeals court to resume the travel ban. It’s denied. Trump goes haywire on Twitter, using the all caps function more than any teenager knows is appropriate. The DoJ’s denied court filing contains language no less strong than Trump’s Twitter accusation of Robarts as “a so-called judge,” describing US courts in general as “particularly ill-equipped to second-guess the President’s prospective judgment.” It further emphasizes that courts cannot review the President’s determination on which steps he takes to prevent terrorism.
Monday sees attorneys general from sixteen states form a coalition as they file a brief against the ban, citing adverse effects on their respective states’ interests.
On February 9, Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco delivers “the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke” to Trump’s Muslim ban, refusing to reinstate the ban. The three judges (appointed by Obama, Carter, and Bush II) roundly reject the appeal, steamrolling over the above DoJ assertion with the words, “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” Further highlighting the illegality of the ban, the judge’s decision proclaims: “the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated an attack on the United States…. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.” Sucker punch: “We disagree, as explained above.” Full 29-page ruling here; seven key takeaways summarizing the ruling here.
For now, the DoJ isn’t exactly rushing to take this to the Supreme Court, nor has it even said it will attempt to do so, perhaps finally grasping where it stands.
On Monday the 13th, federal judge Leonie M. Brinkema, follows the Ninth Circuit ruling with a ruling of her own in Virginia, but goes further than previous rulings in addressing the gorilla in the room and calling a spade a spade, explicitly describing the ban as a First Amendment violation, linking it as a continuation of Trump’s expressed anti-Muslim sentiments and 2015 plan to eliminate Muslim immigration, noting that the Administration has “not denied any of these statements or produced any evidence, beyond the text of the executive order itself, to support their contention that the executive order was primarily motivated by national security concerns.”
Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.