By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A second U.S. federal judge has blocked parts of President Donald Trump's latest travel ban on people entering the United States from eight countries, dealing another legal blow to the administration's third bid to impose travel restrictions.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland, in a ruling issued overnight, said the policy as applied to six majority-Muslim countries likely violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on religious discrimination. He also ruled the ban ran afoul of immigration law.
Trump's ban would have taken effect on Wednesday but was blocked on Tuesday by a U.S. federal judge in Hawaii in a separate challenge.
Together, the pair of rulings set up a high-stakes battle over the president's executive authority that is expected to ultimately wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump's latest order targeted people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, as well as certain government officials from Venezuela. Neither of the court rulings lifts the restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.
In the Maryland ruling, Chuang questioned the government's argument that the restrictions are needed until the affected countries provide more information on travelers to the United States.
He cited various statements made by Trump, including his 2015 call for a "total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States."
Chuang wrote that the president's public statements "not only fail to advance, but instead undermine, the position that the primary purpose of the travel ban now derives from the need to address information sharing deficiencies."
The latest ban, announced last month, was the third version of a policy that targeted Muslim-majority countries but had been restricted by the courts. The Maryland case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several advocacy groups, including the International Refugee Assistance Project.
"Like the two versions before it, President Trump's latest travel ban is still a Muslim ban at its core. And like the two before it, this one is going down to defeat in the courts," said ACLU lawyer Omar Jadwat.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu said Hawaii was likely to succeed in proving that the policy violated federal immigration law. The White House called the ruling flawed and said it would appeal.
Unlike the Hawaii ruling, the Maryland decision would lift the restrictions only for people with family connections to the United States.
White House representatives had no immediate comment.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)