posted Apr 12, 2017

With the world watching, Washington State challenged the president

Early Saturday morning on January 28, Bob Ferguson, Washington State attorney general, boarded a plane on his way home to Seattle. By the time the plane landed, his phone had blown up.

The afternoon before, President Trump had signed Executive Order 137696, the “Muslim Travel Ban,” and people called wanting to know what was going to be done about it. Ferguson and his team had expected Trump to sign a travel ban targeting Muslims, but they were taken aback by the breadth and depth of the actual order. And they needed to act fast.

On April 11, Ferguson visited with UW law students to give a behind-the-scenes look at his office’s successful injunction against Trump’s “Muslim travel ban.”

Ferguson told of that Saturday in January when the team came together and did what they had done many times before: vet the claim. Are Washington residents being harmed? Is there a good Constitutional argument? Does the Washington AG have standing? With confidence in all three areas, they moved ahead with a lawsuit alleging the EO was unconstitutional.

With the world watching, Ferguson and his team went on to challenge Trump and the Muslim travel ban in court twice, and would succeed both times.

“We won. I don’t have words to describe how I felt. It was a great moment,” Ferguson told the audience.

“The team is still trying to process everything that happened – it’s overwhelming. The law impacts people in such a deeply personal way, for good and bad. There is no better example of that than this travel ban. People’s lives were uprooted; there was chaos.”

“You could take the 20 next most important case I’ve had and combine them. In terms of reaction, it still wouldn’t equal this one case.”

One question Ferguson gets asked a lot is, why was Washington first? He credits three things. First, they anticipated the Executive Order and were prepared. Second, they had the resources in place. Early in his tenure, Ferguson has created a Civil Rights Unit within the AG’s office. Headed by Colleen Melody '09 with Kelly Paradis '13 on the team, the Civil Rights Unit had the expertise and bandwidth to take on a lawsuit of this magnitude. Third, they were willing to take a calculated risk.

Encouraging the law students to consider careers in public service, he told them: “I’m a big believer in public service with the law. You all have a gift – you’re going to be graduates of one of the best law schools in the country, with a lot of great options ahead of you. There are a lot of people in this state who need a good lawyer and don’t have representation. The need is tremendous.”