February 1, 2017, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with three Department of Justice offices: the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, seeking the administration’s purported legal justification for Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees and Muslims. There is considerable uncertainty about what legal review, if any, the hurried and legally dubious order went through, and how such a facially discriminatory government action could have been justified by the Department of Justice.
The filing requests from the Justice Department any legal opinions, analysis, or recommendations concerning the executive order, including those provided by OLC or its attorneys concerning whether the order violates the Constitution or other applicable law.
“Given the transparent illegality of Trump’s order, it is critical to know whether the OLC actually reviewed and approved it and, if so, what legal gymnastics the Office undertook to justify this historic act of discrimination,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. “As we should remember from the John Yoo ‘Torture Memos,’ just because the OLC says it’s legal does not make it so.”
While few affected government agencies or individuals were apprised of the details before the order was signed late on Friday, the Trump administration claimed the OLC signed off on its legality. However, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates disagreed, expressing doubt that the order was lawful and consistent with her responsibility to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.” She ordered DOJ attorneys not to defend the order in court and was fired just a few hours later by Trump.
The executive order banned nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days and halted the admission of all refugees for four months. It sparked massive protests at airports around the country and multiple legal challenges.