Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today joined a coalition of states asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the Trump Administration’s effort to bar travel by certain close family members of people in the United States.

Last month, the high court ruled that the travel ban would not apply to those with “a close familial relationship” to someone in the U.S. The ruling came in challenges filed in Hawaii and Maryland opposing President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban.

“Judge Watson said it well,” Ferguson said. “It’s common sense that grandparents, grandchildren, and others are close family. I am asking the court to reject the federal government’s effort to continue enforcing its overly restrictive interpretation.”

On June 26, the high court accepted review of the Hawaii and Maryland cases. It also ordered that a federal district court injunction blocking Trump’s travel ban to remain in place for those with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The court explained that such a relationship can be either “a close familial relationship” with “a person” in the United States, or a “formal, documented” relationship with an entity or organization.

Following the ruling, the Trump Administration issued guidance stating it intends to enforce its travel ban against close family members including grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and first cousins.

The State of Hawaii challenged this interpretation at the district court level, with supporting briefs from Washington and other states. On July 13, Judge Derrick Watson enforced his previous injunction, ordering the federal government to broaden its definition of close family.

The federal government sought review of this decision to the Supreme Court, and Hawaii filed a response asking that the lower court ruling remain in place. The states’ brief today supports Hawaii’s request.

In the brief, the states give a concrete example of the harm done by the federal government’s narrow definition. John, a young Congolese man, was orphaned as an infant and raised as a son by his uncle, alongside his 10 cousins.

“John’s uncle never legally adopted John, however, because that practice was not part of their culture and there was no need to do so; the uncle already considered John a son and John’s cousins considered him a brother,” the states write. “After fleeing for their lives as refugees in 2009, the family was finally resettled in the United States on July 4th of this year — but without John, who was forced to stay behind (presumably under application of the federal government’s guidance to him), and who is now separated from the only ‘parents’ and ‘siblings’ he has ever known — a frightening and emotionally devastating experience for both John and his United States–based family.”

The brief argues that the Trump Administration’s “artificially narrow line” drawn in the court’s ruling affects the ability of state universities, hospitals and businesses to recruit and retain students and staff:

“When foreign nationals decide whether to accept offers of employment or offers of admission to an educational institution in the United States, they take into account whether their close family members will be able to visit them. And during the time that such persons are actually working or studying in the United States, their fundamental familial relationships are profoundly burdened if close family members are prevented from visiting them.”


In January, Ferguson filed a lawsuit challenging the legality and constitutionality of President Trump’s original travel ban. At the same time, he sought a temporary restraining order blocking its implementation while the case proceeds. Washington argued its challenge of the Executive Order was likely to ultimately succeed and the ban was causing extraordinary harm to Washington state and its residents, so the court should block the travel ban until the case could be ultimately decided.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart granted the nationwide temporary restraining order. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the order. In order to grant the temporary restraining order, the judges had to find that Ferguson’s lawsuit against the Administration was likely to succeed.

Contrary to some of President Trump’s subsequent tweets, his Administration chose not to appeal the restraining order against the original travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 5, the President tweeted: “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”

In fact, the Trump Administration dropped its appeal, and reimbursed the Washington State Attorney General’s Office for its court costs.

The Trump Administration declared its intent to rescind the first Executive Order and replace it with a revised travel ban.

Issued on March 6, the second travel ban made significant changes, but Ferguson and other Attorneys General believed the second ban was also unlawful and unconstitutional. Ferguson amended his lawsuit to challenge the legality of the President’s revised ban.

Judge Robart heard Washington’s challenge to the revised travel ban on March 15, but before he could rule, two judges in Maryland and Hawaii issued nationwide injunctions blocking the implementation of the ban. Judge Robart chose not to issue a ruling given that the revised travel ban was already halted.

The Trump Administration appealed those two injunctions. The Administration lost its appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which upheld the Maryland injunction, and ruled that the Executive Order “in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

On June 12, the Administration also lost its appeal of the Hawaii injunction before the Ninth Circuit.

The Administration appealed those rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted review June 26. Oral arguments are set for October.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Interim Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov