Our Courts Matter for the Muslim Community

The courts are a critical independent check on this unpredictable and dangerous administration’s attack on the Muslim community.

A teenage boy from Yemen wipes his eyes as he walks with his father and his uncle after arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, February 5, 2017. ((AP/Alexander F. Yuan))
A teenage boy from Yemen wipes his eyes as he walks with his father and his uncle after arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, February 5, 2017. ((AP/Alexander F. Yuan))

Since 9/11, the Muslim American community has been enduring hateful speech, discrimination, excessive screening at airports, bullying, vandalism, and even death as a result of increasing anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years.

From the outset of his campaign, now-President Donald Trump has perpetrated—and encouraged—hate speech toward the Muslim community without remorse or regard for its devastating consequences. This includes a comment that “Islam hates us” and accusing Muslim Americans of protecting terrorists.

The Trump administration’s persecution of and discrimination against Muslims

The 2015 FBI hate crimes report revealed a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, making it the second-most-dangerous year for Muslims in American history. These numbers do not include crimes that are not recorded either due to victims’ fear of retaliation or police departments’ reporting failures. Last year yielded even more hateful speech for marginalized communities nationwide, and a shocking 701 hate incidents were reported in just the first eight days after the election.

President Trump and his allies have already made good on his campaign promises to persecute Muslims with several executive orders and continued discriminatory rhetoric. Just one week into his term, Trump issued an executive order banning all refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, except on a case-by-case basis for people whose admission “is in the national interest.” Fuad Sharef and his wife, along with their three children, were headed to America with a special immigrant visa granted to Iraqis who risked their lives in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion. Due to the ban, they were sent back to Iraq, where they had already sold their home, quit their jobs, and removed their children from school. Meanwhile, a 5-year-old boy was detained for five hours and reportedly handcuffed at Washington Dulles International Airport—a U.S. citizen from Maryland who was separated from his mother, in fear, on his birthday.

On February 3, Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington, put a halt to the implementation of the Muslim ban nationwide. President Trump took to Twitter to attack the “so-called judge” and his “ridiculous” decision in defiance of basic democratic principles. His disrespect for our judiciary has yielded threats to judges’ lives and increased security to protect them. The founding fathers intended for each branch of government to serve as an independent check on the others. But Trump is actively undermining the independence of the judiciary. The mere silence from the Republican Congress—its refusal to condemn his frightening attacks—has proven that it stands with the administration.

Also last week, President Trump met with the National Sheriffs’ Association, an extremist group linked to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant speech. The administration may also alter the Countering Violent Extremism government program to focus only on Islamic extremism, omitting white supremacist terror groups who have carried out terrorist attacks on American soil.

All of this shows that Muslims are in the crosshairs of the administration. With a new attorney general who has also been hostile to Muslim Americans, the Muslim community is on edge. Muslim Americans do not know what to expect next—or where the attack will come from, their government or the individuals who look to the president’s rhetoric and the administration’s actions to validate their extreme, hateful views.

The courts’ importance in weighing the facts

The past three weeks prove that the judiciary is the one possible check on this administration. With the controversial Muslim ban, judges have shown us the importance of independent courts to a functioning democracy. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the ruling on the Muslim ban and unanimously upheld Judge Robart’s decision, using powerful language that pushed back against the idea that the court should not intervene. The court said that “this claimed unreviewability … runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

These judges proved their independence from President Trump and his administration. But not all judges share their integrity. Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, is an extremist who would bring Trump’s agenda to the Supreme Court and serve as a deciding vote to shield him from being checked by the judiciary. When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed Gorsuch on important issues such as the Emoluments Clause—a provision of the Constitution that Trump has been violating since January 20 by allegedly accepting payments from foreign powers—Gorsuch “avoided answers like the plague.” Both Gorsuch’s record and his refusal to provide answers about his current views raise serious questions about his independence from Trump.

It is especially critical that the next Supreme Court justice be independent because President Trump will have an opportunity to influence the lower courts. The Republican Congress’ obstruction of judicial nominees during the Obama administration leaves Trump with a total of 118 vacancies to fill on lower courts, about one-eighth of the entire federal judiciary.

The courts will be the first—and potentially last—line of defense for Americans under threat, including Muslims, and seeking protection from infringement by other branches of government. The Trump administration has shown that it will disguise racist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim actions under the veil of national security. Only the courts can pierce that veil, rejecting fear-based rationale and insisting on evidence. When courts weigh the facts, Trump will lose. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees. While Trump claims that the Muslim ban is needed until we can begin “extreme vetting,” the United States already practices extraordinarily thorough vetting. The 9th Circuit recognized these facts, noting that there was “no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named … has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” After the 9th Circuit’s decision, Trump said he is redrafting the Muslim ban executive order to make it stronger against legal challenges, while weighing every appeals option in the court system. But there is no version of this ban that is constitutional—because Trump repeatedly promised a Muslim ban, which shows his intent to discriminate.


Judgeships are lifetime appointments that will affect this country and all of its communities for generations. The Muslim community, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations targeted by the Trump administration need reassurance that the courts will continue to stand up to unconstitutional executive actions. We must be vigilant and protect the courts from being taken over; they are perhaps the most critical means of resisting this unpredictable and dangerous administration. That is why we cannot afford to have a justice whose only response to President Trump’s anti-democratic attack on the judiciary is a vague, behind-closed-doors comment that such comments are “demoralizing.” The president’s attacks on judges are much more than that: They threaten the separation of powers and our constitutional system.

Anisha Singh is the Campaign Manager for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. Billy Corriher is the Deputy Director of Legal Progress at the Center.

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Anisha Singh

Senior Organizing Director

Billy Corriher

Deputy Director, Legal Progress