Our Courts Matter for the Muslim Community
By Anisha Singh and Billy Corriher
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
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
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.