WASHINGTON When President Trump angrily tweeted "SEE YOU IN COURT" following an appellate panel's ruling in February against his ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, he probably didn't mean so many courts so soon.
Now, as his Justice Department prepares to defend a watered-down travel ban from coast to coast over the next 11 days, the administration also faces real and threatened court challenges to a range of policies, from rollbacks of clean air and water regulations to religious liberty protections and funding cuts for sanctuary cities.
Thus it was that advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community this week blasted out their intention to file a lawsuit against Trump's executive order protecting religious believers before the details were announced. "We will sue with everything we have," said Susan Sommer, associate legal director of Lambda Legal. The ACLU also threatened court action.
For an executive branch that has yet to fill most of its top jobs or get any major legislation through Congress, the Trump administration already is dealing with an array of court battles many of its own making that could stretch through the next four years.
"What Trump has been doing is giving his opponents really strong legal claims," said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA School of Law. "The left's only hope of winning at this point is in the courts."
To date, those courts have acted as a check against Trump's assertion of broad executive powers, much as they did against President Barack Obama. Federal judges from Maryland to Hawaii struck down key parts of the travel ban, prompting the administration to issue a less restrictive version affecting only six countries and exempting thousands of visa- and green card-holders.
That version will come before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond on Monday, as well as a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Seattle a week later. It could reach the Supreme Court early next year, with other skirmishes to follow.
'This is the Trump era'
Trump's pledge during last year's presidential campaign to reverse the flow of illegal immigrants led to his executive order against funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" that harbor people the administration seeks to deport. A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled last month that the president exceeded his authority, prompting another White House vow to appeal.
"This is the Trump era," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. "This will be the administration that fully enforces our nations immigration laws."
Targeting immigrants was something President George W. Bush did after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the court battles that resulted are still raging. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in January in a case brought by illegal Muslim immigrants detained for months as suspected terrorists. The case is so old that Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan recused themselves because of past involvement before they came to the high court.
Other policies already being challenged in court by environmental and consumer groups include Trump's executive order requiring that for every new regulation issued, two others must be repealed, as well as a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep a controversial pesticide on the market despite risks to consumers.
Another category of potential legal challenges includes several court fights dating back to the Obama administration in which Trump's team has changed sides. It dropped objections to Texas' restrictions on voting rights and a Virginia school district's restrictions on which bathrooms transgender students can use both cases that could reach the Supreme Court as early as next year.
The Trump administration also tried without success to block a consent decree to reform Baltimore's police department, which Obama's Justice Department accused of racial bias. And it has inserted itself into a court battle aimed at reducing the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and removing its director, Richard Cordray.
"The courts are standing strong so far," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "This administration has not been able to fulfill many of the efforts that it has launched in the last three months."
More litigation to come
Looming in the future is a showdown over Obama's environmental legacy. The Trump administration last month won a 60-day delay in a case brought by coal-producing states and industries against tougher emissions limits for new and existing power plants, lest a federal appeals court rule in favor of rules no longer supported by the White House.
Trump also has signed an executive order directing the EPA to revise an Obama policy expanding federal power to protect waterways, such as wetlands and floodplains. Conservatives complain that the rules threaten private property rights.
"My guess is that the bulk of the litigation is ahead of us," said Richard Revesz, an environmental and regulatory law expert at New York University School of Law. "All this litigation is going to consume the full four years."
Other administration policies that have not been fleshed out provide fodder for future lawsuits. They could include efforts to spend federal funds on private school vouchers, reverse parts of the Affordable Care Act through executive actions, and target voter fraud. Trump has claimed without evidence that millions of people vote illegally.
"That's the kind of language that often leads to voter suppression efforts," said David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Those will certainly be challenged in the courts."
In all of these court battles, those challenging the administration may be helped by Trump's criticisms of the judges and courts that rule against him. He accused an Indiana-born judge who oversaw a lawsuit involving Trump University of bias because of his Mexican heritage. He disparaged a "so-called" judge who was first to strike down the travel ban. He has called for breaking up the 9th Circuit, the largest and most liberal federal appeals court in the nation.
"When you attack judges, judges will get their backs up. They want to protect themselves," Winkler said. The result, he said, will be to "embolden Trump's opponents to file more lawsuits."