SAN DIEGO (CN) — A panel of federal judges has refused the Homeland Security Department’s request to consolidate 13 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from the ACLU, seeking information on how President Trump’s travel ban is being enforced across the country.
Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection filed a motion to centralize the FOIA lawsuits filed in 13 cities, in District of Columbia Federal Court.
But the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation rejected the government’s argument that consolidating the cases would reduce litigation costs, and that a single FOIA request to Customs and Border Protection headquarters could have asked the agency to search field offices for the records.
“The potential for litigation cost savings, without more, does not warrant centralization, particularly where, as here, there is little likelihood of complex pretrial proceedings,” U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance, from the Eastern District of Louisiana, wrote as chair of the six-member panel in an Aug. 2 order filed with the court on Tuesday.
The panel found the FOIA lawsuits were unlikely to require extensive pretrial proceedings, as “these factual issues, which primarily concern the adequacy of CBP’s searches for the requested records, as well as CBP’s coordination of the searches by its Washington D.C. headquarters, appear relatively straightforward.”
A footnote in the order noted the government could move again to consolidate the cases “in the unlikely event that these cases actually involve a significant amount of duplicative pretrial discovery.”
ACLU chapters from California to Maine blitzed federal courts this spring looking for information on how each Customs and Border Protection field office carried out President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769, barring citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
The executive order immediately caused chaos across the country’s international airports as some permanent residents and visitors were detained upon landing in the United States.
The travel ban has been revised and blocked by federal judges who found the restrictions unconstitutional religious discrimination.
In an emailed statement, ACLU attorney Mitra Ebadolahi said the ACLU is not seeking CBP headquarters documents, but local records from field offices and that consolidation of the cases in the District of Columbia would be improper since the ACLU believes CBP will have to conduct localized document searches.
“The government has been delaying searching for and producing responsive records for each of these time-sensitive FOIA requests, which pertain to matters of immense public interest,” Ebadolahi said.
The ACLU attorney said following the denial of consolidation, each of the cases can proceed and the government will be required to search for and produce local records.
Also on the judicial panel were U.S. District Judges Charles Breyer, Ellen Segal Huvelle, Catherine Perry, Lewis Kaplan and R. David Proctor.