WeChat legal battle far from over in US

By GT staff reporters Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/27 21:18:55

Lawsuit may continue after US presidential election

WeChat TikTok Photo:VCG

The legal battle against the Trump administration's WeChat ban will reach a federal appellate court if an upcoming hearing rules in favor of the US government, according to a non-profit group representing US WeChat users, which has insisted on a high-profile challenge against the ban since August.

That suggests the motion filed against the ban targeting WeChat, a rare act of defiance against the US government among the Chinese-American community, could well continue after the November presidential election, an advisor to the US WeChat Users Alliance told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

The alliance scored a phased victory in its quest to block Trump's August 6 announcement aiming to ban US transactions with WeChat and the US Commerce Department's ban announcement on September 18 that details prohibitions on the app. A US district court in San Francisco issued an order on September 20 granting a nationwide preliminary injunction against Trump's ban.

In a filing on Friday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked Judge Laurel Beeler, who had agreed to put on hold the US re-strictions, to allow for an immediate ban on the app on the grounds of national security threats.

Saying that the DOJ motion to stay the injunction pending appeal came within the alliance's expectations, the advisor, requesting anonymity, said it's difficult to predict the court's decision.

As part of its effort to stay the injunction, the DOJ submitted a confidential document that will only be reviewed by the judge and won't be made publicly available. The alliance expressed its skepticism about the motive and timing involved in filing such evidence for a case involving substantial public interest.

WeChat will remain readily available in the US until the judge makes her decision, probably in a few days, after the fourth hearing on the case that's scheduled for October 15, according to the alliance. 

The loser is expected to file an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judging by the progress and previous lawsuits, "there is a big chance that the hearing for the appeal will be held after the [November] election," the advisor revealed, adding that the possibility of an emergency hearing for the appeal can't be ruled out.

As for whether the case would eventually reach the Supreme Court, the advisor said "the Supreme Court might be interested in our case, which involves the First Amendment and public interest."

The odds of the Supreme Court taking an appeal stands at only about 2 percent, according to the advisor, meaning the highest court in the US takes 100-150 such cases per annum out of 7,000-8,000 requests for a hearing. 

In an August interview with the Global Times, Zhu Keliang, managing partner of DeHeng Law Offices' Silicon Valley office and one of the alliance's initiators, said if the alliance loses the initial suit, it will immediately appeal to the higher court, including the Supreme Court.

The challenge could be a prolonged battle, the alliance estimated, citing Trump's Muslim travel ban in 2017 and litigation against the ban, which ultimately reached the US Supreme Court in 2018.

While the alliance's efforts to overturn the ban resonates strongly with the Chinese-American community at large, some local Chinese-Americans have questioned why the alliance was motivated to mount the case and the reasonableness of the lawyers' fees paid by donor funding. 

In a posting on September 19 on the WeChat public account of Yu, South & Associates, a Richardson, Texas-based immigration law firm, the alliance's legal challenge was described as an extravagant performance to "fish for fame" by some Chinese American patent and immigrant lawyers.

Arguing against speculation that the alliance is linked to any political parties or WeChat owner Tencent, the advisor said the non-profit group is entirely an ad hoc grassroots organization intended to defend the rights of Chinese-Americans to continue the use of the popular app they have long relied on. 

Such suspicion points to the lack of unity among Chinese-Americans, the advisor reckoned, disclosing that some of the alliance's initiators — including New York attorney Cao Ying, founder of Ying Cao Law LLC — receive many telephone and e-mail threats every day, believed to mostly come from Chinese-Americans. 

"Many Chinese-Americans… thought such a grassroots organization [representing] local people of Chinese descent to challenge the president's executive order is either an act of treason against the US or opposing Trump or Republicans … there's still a long way off before they get educated about the Constitution, which means individuals' rights can only be attained through legitimate means."

The alliance has publicly circulated the monthly bill for the legal proceedings in August, mostly from Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. Michael Bien, co-founding partner of the San Francisco-based law firm and lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, is known for his adeptness at handling litigation against Constitutional violations and he is considered key to achieving the phased victory.

The alliance had raised over $1 million as of September 21, enough to cover the costs for August-September, which have al-ready exceeded $500,000. The donor funding, according to the advisor, would be adequate to finance the appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Newspaper headline: WeChat legal battle far from over

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