Judges Rip Indiana Lawyer Fighting To Keep Syrian Refugees Out Of State

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had little patience for the Indiana solicitor general during oral arguments Tuesday, who said the state had a right to refuse the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Judges Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, both appointed to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan, took turns grilling Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, raining the state’s top advocate with rhetorical barbs that sketched Indiana’s almost-certain defeat in the litigation.

At issue is an executive order issued by Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican nominee for vice president, banning state agencies from disbursing federal funds to organizations resettling Syrian refugees. The order was challenged by Exodus Refugee International, which argued it was a prima facie violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, since the order targets individuals of a specific nationality.

“Why has Indiana limited its concern to Syrians?” Posner asked. “Are Syrians the only Muslims Indiana fears?”

Fisher cited a statement from FBI Director James Comey, which suggested the Bureau did not have the data or institutional capacity to vet Syrian refugees. Fisher had cited the comments before, prompting Posner to point out the U.S. Department of State had claimed it was capable of thoroughly vetting immigrants. His repeated invocation of Comey’s comments grated on an increasingly impatient Posner. (RELATED: Growing List Of Governors Say They Won’t Accept Syrian Refugees)

“Honestly!” the judge bellowed. “You are so out of it! You don’t think there are dangers from other countries?”

Easterbook seemed to think the FBI issue was something of a red herring, suggesting that the question of vetting was irrelevant in light of the fact Indiana had no right to set its own immigration policy.

“What difference does it make what the FBI says?” he asked. “In an amicus brief, the United States says Indiana has exceeded its authority.” Fisher again invoked the Comey statement.

“When a state targets a policy against people from Syria and says it has nothing to do with national origin, it produces nothing but a broad smile,” Easterbrook retorted.

The third judge on the panel was Judge Diane Sykes, a George W. Bush appointee. Sykes was included on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees, if he is elected.

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