After 2 Weeks In Office, Trump Faces More Than 50 Lawsuits

Feb 2, 2017
Originally published on February 3, 2017 7:27 pm

Donald Trump has been president for two weeks, and he is already facing dozens of lawsuits over White House policies and his personal business dealings. That's far more than his predecessors faced in their first days on the job. The lawsuits started on Inauguration Day, and they haven't let up.

Most of the 50-plus lawsuits filed so far relate to the travel ban on refugees and nationals from seven mostly-Muslim countries that Trump ordered on Jan. 27. They were filed in 17 different states by doctors, professors, students, people fleeing violence and Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. military. Some were detained in American airports for hours over the weekend; others were barred overseas from boarding planes bound for the U.S. Two Syrian brothers with visas to enter the country say they were turned around at Philadelphia International Airport and sent back to Damascus.

Human rights organizations and attorneys general in five states jumped aboard some of the suits, and their lists of legal grievances were long. They alleged violations of the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments, which guarantee religious equality, due process and equal protection under the law, as well as denials of asylum and discriminatory visa processing.

San Francisco sued over Trump's directive to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Lawyers representing the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued over Trump's alleged conflicts of interest. Deepak Gupta told NPR last week that the lawsuit could have broad implications.

"This is about testing the proposition that the framers really meant it when they said the president has to have undivided loyalty to the American people and should not have financial entanglements with foreign governments," Gupta said.

The White House is fighting all the lawsuits. Trump says the ethics suit is "without merit" and argues that the immigration orders are necessary to keep the country safe.

This flurry of litigation goes far beyond what other administrations faced. At the same point in Obama's presidency, his administration had been sued just five times. The George W. Bush White House faced only four.

"The Trump administration may set records in terms of the number of lawsuits filed against the administration, or against President Trump personally," says Jonathan Turley, who teaches at the George Washington University Law School.

Turley knows firsthand about suing the president. He was lead counsel in a case brought by Congress that successfully challenged part of the Affordable Care Act. Legal challenges like that one have become basically standard procedure in Washington.

Princeton University political history professor Julian Zelizer says that in an era of heightened partisanship, executive orders are an increasingly popular way to make policy. The Obama administration used them. Now the Trump administration is doing the same. According to Zelizer, Democrats and their allies are pushing back the only way they can: in court. Just like Republicans did.

"When a president releases an executive order, one of the instant responses is to try to tie it up legally," Zelizer says. "Opponents of President Trump are looking to what the Republicans did in the last few years as a road map forward. Conservatives know this can be an incredibly effective tool to stop presidents from doing things that you don't want them to do."

Trump is no stranger to litigation. He has been a defendant and a plaintiff in thousands of lawsuits as a real estate developer and reality TV star. His general legal strategy? Fight back.

"When I get sued, I take it right — just take it all the way," Trump said during the campaign. "You know what happens? If you settle suits, you get sued more."

In November, though, the then-president-elect did settle lawsuits related to Trump University.

Some of the lawsuits from Trump's business career will follow him into office. Turley of George Washington University said that, too, is novel — and could be a distraction for the White House.

"Those lawsuits that are found to have merit and are based on President Trump's personal conduct are likely to be something of a nuisance," Turley said.

The lawsuits over Trump's executive orders could be huge obstacles to his agenda for years to come. Court hearings on the challenges over his travel ban are getting underway across the country.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Donald Trump has been president for not quite two weeks, and he already faces dozens of lawsuits over White House policies, as well as personal business dealings. As NPR's Joel Rose found, that as many more than earlier presidents faced in their first days on the job.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The lawsuits started on inauguration day, and they haven't let up.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DENNIS HERRERA: The president's executive order is not only unconstitutional; it's un-American.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MAURA HEALEY: My message is simply this - that no one is above the law, that...

ANTHONY ROMERO: And when President Trump enacts laws or executive orders that are unconstitutional and illegal, the courts are there to defend everyone's rights.

ROSE: That was San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and ACLU executive director Anthony Romero in New York. Most of the 50-plus lawsuits filed so far have to do with immigration, including dozens related to the travel ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, but not all. Lawyers representing the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued President Trump for his alleged conflicts of interest. Deepak Gupta told NPR last week that the lawsuit could have broad implications.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DEEPAK GUPTA: This is about testing the proposition that the framers really meant it when they said that the president has to have undivided loyalty to the American people and should not have financial entanglements with foreign governments.

ROSE: The White House is fighting all the lawsuits. Trump says the ethics suit is, quote, "without merit," unquote, and that the immigration orders are necessary to keep the country safe. This flurry of litigation goes way beyond what other administrations faced. At this point, the Obama administration had been sued just five times and the Bush White House only four. Jonathan Turley teaches at the George Washington University Law School.

JONATHAN TURLEY: The Trump administration may set records in terms of the number of lawsuits filed against the administration or against President Trump personally.

ROSE: Turley knows firsthand about suing the president. He was lead counsel in a case brought by Congress that successfully challenged part of the Affordable Care Act. Legal challenges like that one have become basically standard procedure in Washington.

JULIAN ZELIZER: When a president releases an executive order, one of the instant responses is to try to tie it up legally.

ROSE: Julian Zelizer teaches political history at Princeton. In an era of heightened partisanship, Zelizer says executive orders are an increasingly popular way to make policy. The Obama administration used them. Now the Trump administration is doing the same. And Zelizer says Democrats and their allies are pushing back the only way they can - in court, just like Republicans did.

ZELIZER: Opponents of President Trump are looking to what the Republicans did in the last few years as a roadmap forward. Conservatives know this can be an incredibly effective tool to stopping presidents from doing things that you don't want them to do.

ROSE: Donald Trump is no stranger to litigation. He's been a defendant and a plaintiff in literally thousands of lawsuits as a real estate developer and reality TV star. His legal strategy - fight back. Here's Trump during the campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When I get sued, I take it right - just take it all the way. You know what happen happens? If you settle suits, you get sued more.

ROSE: Some of the lawsuits from Trump's business career will follow him into office. Jonathan Turley at George Washington University says that, too, is novel and could be a distraction for the White House.

TURLEY: Those lawsuits that are found to have merit and are based on President Trump's personal conduct are likely to be something of a nuisance.

ROSE: The lawsuits over Trump's executive orders could be huge obstacles to his agenda for years to come. Court hearings on the challenges over his travel ban are getting underway across the country. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.