Meet the man behind the challenge to Trump's travel ban

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says taking on U.S. President Donald Trump in court is a lot like playing chess.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks during a press conference at his office in Seattle on Thursday. An appeals court refused to reinstate U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

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Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says taking on U.S. President Donald Trump in court is a lot like playing chess.

The 51-year-old Democrat and internationally rated chess master is heading up the landmark legal challenge that brought Trump's controversial travel ban to a grinding halt last week.

Within 72 hours of the president signing the executive order to temporarily suspend the nation's refugee program and halt immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Ferguson's team had filed a constitutional challenge. 

"You're taught to think ahead when it comes to chess and anticipate your opponent's moves. And so we were not caught flat-footed when the president signed his executive order," Ferguson told As It Happens' Helen Mann.

"My team had been contemplating this, anticipating it, and so frankly, when he did it, we were ready to move quickly to get that complaint in."

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson hugs people outside the courthouse in Seattle after a press conference at the U.S. District Court on Feb. 3. Ferguson filed a state lawsuit challenging key sections of Trump's immigration executive order as illegal and unconstitutional. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The lawsuit — which 15 other states have since joined — scored another victory Thursday when a federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge James Robart's restraining order against the executive order. 

The three judges of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the administration's argument that courts did not have the authority to review the president's immigration and national security decisions.

My job is to make sure that nobody is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States.- Bob Ferguson, Washington's attorney general 

What's more, they said the administration failed to show that the order met constitutional requirements to provide notice or a hearing before restricting travel, and presented no evidence that anyone from the seven banned countries was responsible for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

The decision prompted the president to tweet:

The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it was "reviewing the decision and considering its options."

But Ferguson told As It Happens he's ready for whatever comes next. 

"We have seen him in court twice and we're two for two."

Real people, real impact 

The Trump administration has argued that the courts are overstepping their reach and that the president has the right to deny entry to anyone he deems unfit.

What's more, recent polling by Morning Consult and Politico has found 55 per cent of Americans support the travel order.

Asked about this, Ferguson was quick to point out that the law is the law. 

"My job is to follow the Constitution and uphold the Constitution. I don't spend one minute of my workday worrying about what the polls say," he said.

"My job is to make sure that nobody is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States."

Iranian citizen and U.S. green card holder Cyrus Khosravi, centre, greets his brother, Hamidreza Khosravi, left, and two-year-old niece after they were detained for additional screening following their arrival at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Ferguson said he is driven by the real-world impact of the ban, which has caused chaos at U.S. airports, separated families and seen children and the elderly detained.

After the ban was put on hold, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with valid visas could travel to the U.S. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports around the country. 

"It makes you appreciate that there are real lives that are impacted by the president's executive order," he said.

"Law has huge consequences for people on deeply personal levels and that's something that I'm acutely aware of, and that my team is very much aware of, and that's why we're working so hard."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Bob Ferguson. 

With files from Associated Press