Hawaiʻi v. Trump: Challenging More Than Political Differences

Jan 22, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
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The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the latest challenge to the Trump Administration’s third version of the travel ban. Hawai‘i continues to be at the forefront of this legal challenge, and another half dozen lawsuits against President Trump’s policies. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.

Just two weeks into President Donald Trump’s first term, and Hawaiʻi wasted no time in suing the administration for the first version of the travel ban. Here’s state Attorney General Doug Chin.

Two weeks into the Trump Presidency, state Attorney General Doug Chin filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop any enforcement of President Trump's travel ban. Hawai'i became the first state to sue Trump over the travel ban.
Credit AUDREY MCAVOY / AP

“It rocked the entire nation. You had people protesting all around the country including at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport,” says Chin, “It was referring to an entire group of people just as terrorist or as a danger to national security simply based upon the country that they came from or by implication the religion that they were practicing. That just goes totally against Hawaiʻi’s values and what it stands for.”

Protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City, against Donald Trump's executive order signed in January 2017 banning citizens of seven countries from traveling to the United States.
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Chin, who is now running for Congress, has thrown the state’s support behind another six federal lawsuits against the Trump Administration policies. This comes as no surprise for a heavily-Democratic state to challenge a Republican administration’s policies. Visiting Law Professor Kellye Testy says there’s more to it than different political ideologies.

Visiting Law Professor Kellye Testy gives a talk titled "The Rule of Law in Trumpian America" at the University of Hawai'i's Richardson School of Law in early January.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“It’s still early, obviously year one,” says Testy, “But things are moving at a really rapid pace and there have been many things to give concern about President Trump’s respect for democracy and the rule of law. There are a lot of concerns that we are moving in a direction of too much executive power.”

Chin shares that concern. Citing recent arguments the administration made in defense of the third version of the travel ban. Saying the president’s order trumps any court decision.

“That is essentially what they were saying – that if you know the President issues something that’s unreviewable and we were stunned,” says Chin, “You know I don’t know how else to describe that. But that sounds like a dictatorship.”

President Donald Trump being sworn in on January 20, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
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“Without the rule of law we’re in trouble in my view,” says Testy.

But Testy is confident the strong system of checks and balances will guard against executive abuse, and that public awareness of the rule of law in our constitutional democracy is key.

The day after President Trump was sworn into office an estimated five million people around the world joined the 2017 Women's March to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues. Crowds in Washington, D.C. were estimated to be between 440,000 and 500,000.
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“We’ve decided here to be governed by law. And that means that everyone needs to understand that that comes first,” says Testy, “And we may have disagreements about what that law should be or disagreements about policy or how to use it, but that fundamental respect for the rule of law is really critical for our democracy.”

As we enter year two of the Trump Presidency, Chin says its community activism that is going to provide the biggest check on executive power.

“I feel inspired by that. That encourages me,” says Chin, “Just to see how many of us here in Hawaiʻi have been activated, woken up by what we’ve seen happen.”