STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A ruling against President Trump's latest travel ban answers a question often posed by the president's supporters. The question is what the Constitution has to do with an order affecting foreigners. Judges in Maryland and Hawaii have both stopped the ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries. The Hawaii judge says it's likely the travel order will be found unconstitutional, and he says why. The president's travel order stops visitors from six majority-Muslim countries. And it is true that visitors cannot claim all the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. But the judge's ruling does not center on who they are. It centers on who we are. The Constitution says the United States government will not favor one religion over another.
NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering this story. He's on the line. Hansi, good morning.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what is the evidence for how this order did or did not clash with the Constitution?
WANG: Well, the judges said that the Trump administration was arguing that these six countries posed a threat, a national security threat. And the judges say there's not enough evidence to back up that claim, that banning these six majority-Muslim countries - travelers from these countries was necessary for maintaining national security. And that - also that there's a strong likelihood here that if this case were to continue it would violate the First Amendment, specifically the Establishment Clause. The government can't favor one religion over another through this travel ban.
INSKEEP: Although the revised executive order did specifically state this is not religious discrimination. This is not about anybody's particular religion. It's about national security. How did the judge address that?
WANG: Well, the judge in Hawaii, Derrick Watson, he was the first to issue an order last night. He argued that a reasonable, objective observer, based on public statements from the Trump administration, you know, the same administration that - made up of campaign officials that released a press release that called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. before the election - this was all designed to disfavor one particular religion, Islam. And, you know, of course, the Justice Department, like you said, argued that they were not targeting against Muslims. Specifically, you know, one reason was that only a small percentage of Muslims would be affected by the travel ban.
But the judge, Derrick Watson, he said, you know, quote, "the illogic of the government's contentions is palpable." He argued, you know, you don't have to target everyone in a group to be discriminating against a group. And there's well-established legal precedence for that.
INSKEEP: So the president's own words were used against him. And then last night, he had an opportunity to offer up some more words.
WANG: That's right. President Trump was at a rally in Nashville, and he described the Hawaii order as unprecedented judicial overreach. And he said this travel ban that the Hawaii judge has blocked is a revised version of his original travel ban. And, you know, some changes include, you know, Iraq being taken off the list of countries banned, green card holders being exempt, Syrian refugees not being banned indefinitely, people being able to apply for waivers. And he says his lawyers were responding to the earlier 9th Circuit Court ruling. But Trump also raised the question of whether the Hawaii order was done for political reasons. And he says - Trump says he regrets toning it down. Here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a watered-down version of the first one. This is a watered-down version. And let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.
INSKEEP: Any idea, Hansi, if we should take him literally? Do we know what the administration will actually do?
WANG: We're not exactly sure what the next steps are, but it's possible that the Hawaii order and the Maryland order ultimately will go to an appeals court. And so this may end up at the Supreme Court at a later date.
INSKEEP: Which would be the final arbiter of any number of lawsuits. There's a variety of lawsuits out there right now. Is that right?
WANG: That's right.
INSKEEP: OK, Hansi, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
WANG: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang in New York City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.