On the day a federal appeals court upheld the stay on President Donald Trump's travel ban, a top lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came to USC to rally students to the political battles outside the courtroom.
"This is an order that targets foreigners, not Americans, and yet tens of thousands of Americans were out there protesting this order," national legal director of the ACLU, David Cole, said Thursday during a discussion with students, faculty, and the USC legal community at the Gould School of Law.
Citing support from the business community, national security experts and others, Cole said, "That, to me is a very, very encouraging sign that people understand the power of standing up, speaking out and organizing against these measures."
Cole's discussion with students comes a week after the ACLU filed a case challenging the legality of President Trump's nationwide travel ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
"It doesn't say on it 'Muslim ban,' [but] it's intended to be a Muslim ban. He promised to put a Muslim ban in place when he was a candidate," Cole said. "It also favors Christians over Muslims. The establishment clause of the First Amendment requires that the government maintain neutrality as between religious denominations. It can't prefer Christians to Muslims."
According to Cole, the organization has been protecting American civil liberties since 1920 with an emphasis on impartiality.
Cole said President Trump's stance on unauthorized immigrants could be especially damaging to the communities they live in.
"He has made clear that he's going after sanctuary cities. He's going to use the power of the purse to go after those cities that have a different view on immigration. It's going to be a battle," Cole said. "I think Donald Trump poses threats to civil liberties that are really unprecedented and so we're going to be busier than we've ever been in fighting back."
Cole said the courtroom victories so far have been heartening.
"I've been encouraged by the fact that judges have almost two-to-one ruled against the president at this early stage in terms of enforcement," Cole said.
During his month-long tenure as national legal director for ACLU, Cole has filed six cases regarding the travel ban in six different cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Brooklyn. He has also made a historic decision to testify before Congress.
"This has been a remarkable start," Cole said in an interview. "I testified in Congress on the appointment of Senator [Jeff] Sessions becoming attorney general, the first time in history that the ACLU has testified on a nomination because we have a long-standing policy of neither endorsing nor opposing nominees. I didn't oppose Senator Sessions, but I raised the wide set of concerns that we had and continue to have about his commitment to civil liberties and civil rights."
Reach Staff Reporter Keith Demolder here.