As it struck down President Trump's revised travel ban on Wednesday, a federal court in Hawaii used Trump's own words against him. Beyond the text of the new executive order, which Trump issued after his first travel ban was also blocked by a lawsuit, the Hawaii court took into consideration statements that Trump had previously made in interviews, press releases, and other public contexts. In doing so, the court condemned not only the words of Trump's presidential immigration policy, but also the words of his wild and outspoken campaign.
In his forceful ruling, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson declared enforcement of Trump's travel ban "prohibited, pending further orders from this Court." The ruling clearly sided with Hawaii's lawyers, who argued that the travel ban violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. As a reminder from high school civics, the Establishment Clause ensures that the government cannot make a law that infringes on the free exercise of any religion. According to the Hawaii court's ruling, Trump's travel ban may do just that.
[A] reasonable, objective observer—enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance—would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.
The court did acknowledge that the text of the president's executive order is, as the government argued, "religiously neutral." However, the court didn't just consider the text of the executive order. To find grounds for issuing a temporary restraining order against the travel ban, the court looked at the case's "historical background."
The record before this Court is unique.
That background includes an interview that then-candidate Trump had with CNN's Anderson Cooper. In the March 2016 interview, Trump stated, "And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States... [a]nd of people that are not Muslim," according to the court's ruling.
The ruling also cited a December 2015 press release from the Trump campaign. You remember the release — it's the one where Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
The court ultimately found that these statements — and other similar ones — "betray the Executive Order's stated secular purpose." In other words, the court didn't buy that Trump had a change of heart and suddenly doesn't want to ban people based on their religion. By adding Trump's previous statements to the record, the Hawaii court may have complicated the president's immigration policy indefinitely.