At airports across U.S., lawyers aim to counter Trump
In the wake of President Trump's executive order, lawyers nationwide have spent the past week taking part in a wave of activism rarely seen among the U.S. legal community
The day after President Donald Trump signed his immigration ban, Adam Cohen watched from his home in a suburb of New York as chaos mounted at the nation's airports. A 52-year-old soccer dad who runs his own small law firm, Mr. Cohen usually handles cases involving workers' compensation or disability claims.
The next morning, however, Mr. Cohen got in his car and drove to the city's John F. Kennedy International Airport. He ended up spending six days there, volunteering his time at an impromptu legal clinic that sprang up next to a diner in Terminal 4. Never in his life has he done "anything remotely close" to what he did over the past week, Mr. Cohen said. But "that was where I was needed the most."
In the wake of Mr. Trump's immigration ban, a wave of activism is sweeping through the American legal community. Lawyers have flocked to airports to help detained travellers and their relatives, drafting legal documents while sitting in arrival areas. Legal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union filed emergency petitions in court. The attorneys-general of several states launched their own lawsuits and one of them – initiated by the state of Washington – succeeded in temporarily halting the ban.
The country's courts and lawyers have emerged as a potent stumbling block to the early moves of Mr. Trump's administration. The new President has pushed to advance his agenda using a series of executive orders, and lawyers have vowed to challenge those directives. Legal groups such as the ACLU, as well as state prosecutors, say they are girding for a protracted battle. They're especially concerned by Mr. Trump's withering criticism of the federal judge who blocked the ban.
For now, travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries with valid visas can enter the United States, as can refugees. On Monday, a federal appeals court in San Francisco will begin considering further arguments submitted by lawyers representing the Trump administration and Washington State. The judges will rule on whether to reinstate the ban or to continue blocking its implementation.
For lawyers who are accustomed to seeing their profession mocked or disdained, it's an unusual time.
"There is certainly something special about what is happening right now," said Traci Feit Love, the founder of a new group called Lawyers for Good Government, which was created after the presidential election. "People feel that there is nothing more valuable that they can be doing with their law degree than fighting for the causes they're fighting for now."
The group originally started on Facebook in November. Ms. Love wanted to provide a space for lawyers to make concrete suggestions about how to counter the new administration and invited about 50 people to join it. Within days, it had 60,000 members. It has since grown to 130,000 members.
With the ultimate fate of the immigration ban still hanging in the balance, lawyers are continuing to work shifts at airports across the United States and beyond. Providers of free legal assistance have arrived at more than 30 U.S. airports since the ban was signed on Jan. 27. They include major airports such as Chicago and Los Angeles, but also cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Salt Lake City. In Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver, Canadian lawyers are helping to ensure that people with the proper documentation can board flights to the United States.
Some of the lawyers involved specialize in immigration law or civil-rights law. But many others simply want to help. Hogan Lovells, a large multinational firm, was sending lawyers daily in three five-hour shifts to Washington's Dulles airport, according to the Washington Post. Even the law firm where Mr. Trump is a client – Morgan Lewis & Bockius – took on a dozen pro-bono cases related to the immigration ban, The Lawyer magazine reported.
Lawyers such as Mr. Cohen say they're committed to doing whatever they can – including returning to the airports – in the days ahead. He said that his favourite moment over the past week came in the form of a special delivery: After a woman who had been detained at Kennedy airport for more than 24 hours was released, she returned home and baked pastries for the dozens of lawyers camped out there to show her gratitude.
His worst moment came when he feared that Mr. Trump might be leading the country toward a constitutional crisis.
"I have vowed that – and this is going to sound a little corny – I am going to continue to try to support those values that this country was founded on," Mr. Cohen said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."