Gov. Phil Scott is calling for a new state law that would prohibit local officials from enforcing President Donald Trump’s refugee and immigration edicts.
His legal team, together with Attorney General T.J. Donovan, will also consider challenging Trump’s travel ban in court if they conclude that it’s unconstitutional. The temporary ban prohibits refugees, as well as citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, from entering the United States.
To further study whether the ban is unconstitutional or unlawful, the governor is creating a “Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Cabinet” that will include legislative leaders, members of Scott’s cabinet, the defender general and law enforcement leaders.
“We believe we need all hands on deck,” Scott said in an interview Monday evening. “This isn’t about trying to make a name for ourselves … it’s about trying to protect Vermonters and Americans alike.”
Scott suggested that Trump’s order may violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with the Tenth Amendment, which protects state rights. He would not weigh in on whether the ban targets Muslims but said if his cabinet determines that it does, “then we will press forward on that as well.”
In his statement, Scott said, “This action will not prohibit law enforcement officers’ ability to uphold the law, but it will ensure they are not carrying out additional actions under the executive order that may ultimately be deemed unconstitutional or infringe on the rights of Vermonters or the rights of Vermont as a sovereign State.”
Jay Diaz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, praised Scott’s decision not to cooperate with Trump’s order and also called on him to further restrict immigration-related information that already flows between state and federal agencies.
Diaz wrote in an email that the organization “welcomes the governor’s voice to the chorus of legal scholars, advocates, politicians, and impacted communities who agree that President Trump’s Muslim ban and draconian immigration policies are unconstitutional, immoral, and harmful to the United States.”
Those policies — and who is enforcing them — seem to change by the hour. On Monday evening, acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates ordered Justice Department attorneys to not defend the executive order in court and questioned the legality of Trump’s decree. The president later fired Yates and named Dana Boente to serve until his nominee, Jeff Sessions, is confirmed by the Senate.
As confusion continues to swirl, the governor said his administration is asking for more information from the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
“I’m not sure anybody has a complete understanding of the ramifications, and it doesn’t seem as though we’re getting a lot of clarity from the administration but we hope to,” Scott said.