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Washington State Attorney General Sees Immigration Ban As Unconstitutional


We'll start the program today with more on the temporary halt to President Trump's order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. Last night, a federal court judge in Washington state granted a temporary restraining order on the president's ban. Travel is beginning to reopen.

President Trump responded on Twitter several times today. One of the more recent tweets said, quote, "because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country - a terrible decision," unquote. Bob Ferguson is the Washington state attorney general who asked for the stay of the immigration ban, and we reached him in Seattle. Mr. Ferguson, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

BOB FERGUSON: Thanks for having me on. Really appreciate it, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's take this in stages if we can. Can you give us a summary of your argument in support of the temporary restraining order? I assume you had to convince the judge that the harm in proceeding with Mr. Trump's instructions outweighed the public interest in stopping the order at least temporarily.

FERGUSON: That's exactly right - or to get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order. The burden is very high for the state. We had to show a likelihood that we would be successful on the merits of our argument ultimately. We had to show significant harm to people of the state of Washington, and we had to show it's in the public interest to issue this temporary restraining order. My goal is to have the key provisions of that executive order - sections three and five - the ones that are in controversy around people's ability to travel - have those struck down as unconstitutional and unlawful. That's our ultimate goal. And yesterday was obviously a very, very big step in that direction.

MARTIN: On what legal grounds - I mean, if you can explain that in a way that we can understand it. I do want to mention...


MARTIN: ...That the White House issued a statement through the office of the press secretary stating that the president believes the law is lawful and appropriate, that the president's order is intended to protect the homeland. He has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people. They go on to cite law gives the president broad authority on matters of national security and specifically gives him the authority to suspend entry to the country in an emergency.

FERGUSON: Sure. So a couple of thoughts - number one, the judge who issued the order - the judge was appointed by George W. Bush. So there's a judge who understands the arguments being made by the administration. And, yes, you are right. The spokesman for the president is right that the president does have a lot of authority when it comes to issuing an executive order. However, under our system of laws, those powers are not unchecked. Those are not unlimited.

MARTIN: Now, your state is home to some big tech companies that employ people from all over the world. Many of these companies have been very outspoken in their opposition to the president's orders here. Did their views play any role in your office's stance on this?

FERGUSON: I think they certainly help. So last weekend as my legal team - we were working around the clock to get our motion filed Monday before the federal court in Seattle. I reached out last weekend to the corporate counsel at Expedia and Amazon, for example, and to their great credit, they moved mountains over the weekend to draft declarations that we could file with our motions before the court supporting what we were doing. And they wrote about the harm done to their employees by this executive action and to their business. And one thing we had to show was harm done to the state of Washington, to the people and the businesses so those declarations undoubtedly helped in that effort.

MARTIN: I do want to mention 16 state attorneys general overall have expressed opposition to President Trump's ban. I'm asking you to speculate, but do you think this will go to the Supreme Court?

FERGUSON: I think it's entirely possible. And one thing I want to emphasize is that as attorney general, I twice sued the Obama administration in court. I prevailed on one. The other is still being litigated. So for me, it's not about whether the presidents are Democrat or Republican. It's about the rule of law. We are a nation of laws, and everybody must follow our laws. And that includes the present the United States, and that's why the order issued by Judge Robart yesterday was so important. It holds even the president accountable to our laws.

MARTIN: I do want to mention before we go that we did ask the Justice Department to join our conversation or to send someone to participate in our conversation in some form, and they declined. That's Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He joined us from Seattle. Mr. attorney general, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

FERGUSON: Thank you, Michel. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 5, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
In a previous headline, the Washington state attorney general was referred to as a Washington state attorney.
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