The U.S. State Department was ordered to expeditiously comply with a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Brennan Center for Justice for documents related to the Trump administration’s first two travel bans issued last year.
In his order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe of the Southern District of New York granted plaintiffs motion to expedite the production of documents requested from the government six months ago. State officials at some point had approved a Brennan Center request for expedited processing.
“It has now been nearly six months since Plaintiff’s FOIA request was submitted, and nothing has been produced. Nor is there any schedule for production,” Gardephe said. “Accordingly, the presumption of agency delay applies.”
The plaintiffs seek documents related to the January 2017 and March 2017 executive orders singed by President Donald Trump that banned travel to the U.S. by nationals from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. The documents relate to a worldwide review process, outlined in the second executive order, of measures foreign governments may have to take to avoid travel restrictions.
A subsequent proclamation was issued in September restricting entry to the U.S. from eight countries, six of which have Muslim-majority populations. The restrictions were justified based on the worldwide review initiated in the second executive order.
According to Gardephe, the government’s response to the suit did not “rebut the presumption of agency delay.” Attempts to “evade responsibility” by referring the request to other branches of the executive branch didn’t absolve the State Department, as it has remained in control of the records. Painting the Brennan’s Center request now as overly broad, complex, and burdensome in light of the State Department’s backlog of FOIA requests is not supported by the record, as the six-month time period was well within the range other courts have seen records produced.
In a statement, the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel applauded the court’s order.
“Thanks to candidate and President Trump’s own words, we know that the purpose of his travel ban was to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. But it remains a mystery how the administration produced its bizarre list of Muslim countries from which to ban visitors,” Patel said. “The court’s ruling should spur the release of documents that can shed light on whether the administration’s decision-making on banning millions of travelers to the U.S. was as scattershot as it seems.”
The Brennan Center’s representation is led by Covington & Burling associate Jaclyn Martinez Resly. She did not respond to a request for comment.
A representative for the State Department could not be reached for comment.