President Donald Trump has signed orders banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, but the Justice Department has told the president he has no evidence that they are unconstitutional.
The White House on Tuesday told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president’s orders are “unconstitutionally vague” and “do not contain a substantive, lawful basis.”
“The President’s Executive Orders are not legally enforceable and do not contain sufficient statutory authority to implement their purpose,” a Justice Department official told the committee.
It is unclear if the president has any authority to impose travel restrictions in his executive orders, or whether Congress has authority to override his actions.
In the same hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, asked Sessions whether the Justice Departments legal advice “would require a court order for this President to implement his executive order,” as the Justice Dept. has said in the past.
Sessions said he does not know if the executive orders “have legal standing,” but he “strongly supports” the Justice department’s view that they “have no legal basis.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) listens to questions from reporters during a press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 20, 2021.
Sessions is the head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Sen. Jeff Session (R), a member in the Senate Republican leadership, also appeared to back up the Justice official’s claim that the orders “do have a substantive legal basis” on Tuesday.
“I agree with that.
I agree with the Justice deputy attorney general that the President has no legal authority to suspend the entry of foreign nationals into the United States or impose any restrictions on entry of non-U.S. citizens, or impose sanctions against U.S.-based persons who are in the United Nations,” Sessions said.
Cotton then asked Sessions about whether the executive order was “a form of torture,” a comment that Sessions again denied.
Sen. Tom Collins (R – Maine) reacts to President Donald J. Trump signing an executive order on immigration at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC, U.K., January 20 and 21, 2021.(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Reuters)”I don’t think the President would have signed it,” Sessions responded.
“I do believe that the executive actions that he’s put forward would have a substantial effect on our country, but I also think that any executive order that has any legal force that has been put forward that would be unlawful.”
Sessions did not say whether he believes Trump’s orders should be put on hold until the Justice departments legal opinion is issued.
Despite the White House’s assertion that the order is unconstitutional, the president did not give the department legal advice on how to proceed with implementing the orders.
Instead, Trump issued his executive action “Enhancing Public Safety and Homeland Security,” which suspends refugee admissions for 120 days, indefinitely bans entry of citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and limits the number of refugees admitted each year.
The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment on the department’s legal advice.