A federal judge in New York yesterday ordered the Bush administration to decide by September whether to grant an entry visa to a prominent Muslim scholar. The scholar has been barred from entering the United States for nearly two years, first because of supposed ties to terrorism, then for unspecified national security reasons.
The ACLU, which brought the suit, put it more forthrightly than the Times:
A federal judge today ruled that the government cannot continue to stonewall the visa application of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent European Muslim scholar, and that the government cannot bar non-citizens from the United States simply because of their political views.
Ramadan has been attempting to enter the U.S., first to accept a teaching position at Notre Dame and more recently to speak at a PEN Center conference.
The judge’s decision addressed inconsistencies in the government’s various accounts of why it refused his entry:
Judge Crotty, noting the government’s shifting reasons for Mr. Ramadan’s exclusion, said, “While the Government may exclude Ramadan if he poses a legitimate threat to national security, it may not invoke ‘national security’ as a protective shroud to justify the exclusion of aliens on the basis of their political beliefs.”
The judge more specifically rebutted contentions that Ramadan may be a national security threat:
Judge…Crotty…noted that Ramadan “shuns violence as a form of activism and has consistently spoken out against terrorism and radical Islamists.” Judge Crotty also pointed out that, “while the United States has not granted Ramadan a visa to enter the country, Great Britain, its one staunch ally in the battle against terrorism, has not only admitted him into England so that he may teach at Oxford, but has enlisted him in the fight against terrorism.”
In explaining why it’s refused to render a definitive judgment on his visa application, the government made the rather Orwellian claim that it needed to do so in case Ramadan made future statements that would render him ineligible for admission. To which the judge replied:
“Allowing the government to wait for ‘possible future discovery of statements’ would mean that the government could delay final adjudication indefinitely, evading constitutional review by its own failure to render a decision on Ramadan’s application. The Court will not allow this,”
This would seem to put Homeland Security and State on notice that if they do not come up with substantive evidence that Ramadan is a national security threat then they will have to admit him. Unfortunately, Ramadan will have to wait as long as September to discover whether he may finally speak to the people of the United States about his view of Islam and its relation to western civilization; or whether he and the ACLU will have to go back to court to get the visa entry denial overturned.
This is a perfect example of how the executive branch can roll back civil liberties precedents in a seeming heartbeat, while it takes the victims and groups like the ACLU years to get the civil liberties pendulum back into a more balanced equilibrium.
The full Crotty decision is available here.