Bob ferguson master 6769 ypjljr

Bob Ferguson photographed at his Seattle office on April 14, 2017. (Read about how we got that shot.)

Image: Oliver Ludlow

On January 28, 2017, the day after President Trump issued his executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries, Sea-Tac International Airport rumbled with the fury of 3,000 protesters. Immigrants were being detained without explanation or denied entrance they’d already been assured. Touching down on a flight from Florida, state attorney general Bob Ferguson rushed from Sea-Tac to Seattle. That Monday he and his team filed suit, arguing the order violated the Constitution. When the Ninth Circuit court of appeals agreed and slapped a nationwide restraining order on the ban—a victory that spun a spotlight on our AG—Trump issued an all-caps tweet: “See you in court.” Ferguson happily accepts the invitation. —Jessica Voelker

I wanted to be a chess professional for a long time. It’s not just intellectually interesting; it’s a sport. There’s a great artistic element to it, and a competitive component. I loved everything about it, so I spent thousands of hours playing, practicing, studying. 

In chess, your energy is focused on putting yourself in your opponent’s shoes. What is he thinking? What is he trying to accomplish? What is he going to do? 

Early on I thought Donald Trump could win the election. But once it got to the final few weeks of the campaign, I believed the polls. And so certainly, in the last few weeks, I did not think he was going to win. I was as shocked as anyone.

After he won, we began having conversations about what that might mean and identifying core issues that I was most interested in pursuing: civil rights, immigration, the environment.

We were thinking about potential moves he might make, the travel ban being one of them. Now, I think everyone on my team would agree: We were surprised by just how far it went. “So folks on airplanes are literally turned around once they land?” No doubt the breadth of it surprised us, maybe even shocked us.

Within 24 hours of the executive order, I had authorized a lawsuit and we had a strategy in place for how we were going to pursue it.

I’m the sixth of seven kids. We played a lot of basketball in the driveway, and the rule was no blood no foul. Either you were good enough to play or you were not.

A good buddy of mine, he’s a better basketball player. We were playing once—it’s got to be 10 years or so ago—and I beat him. But I knew that the number of times I could beat him again was diminishing, so after I made the game-winning shot, I said to him, “We’ll never play a game of one on one again.” And so that was the last time we played. 

We were here Sunday night [January 29] when there was the big protest at Westlake Center. I remember getting texts from my buddies saying, “Are you coming?” I wanted to go down there and say: “Hey! We’re suing them tomorrow.” But it was a sort of around-the-clock situation at that point.

The national press—it took them awhile for it to sink in that [our injunction] meant the travel ban was stopped. We knew what it meant. 

The ban had been stopped for like a week or so, and I remember my sister calling me up, and she was talking about how on the news they were showing families being reunited across the country. And I still hadn’t turned on the TV in my office—it was just so busy. I finally turned on the TV and saw the scenes in airports. That made a big impact.

I was at a rotary club in Sunnyside a couple weeks ago and it’s a very deep red part of the state. And to say they weren’t too excited about the litigation would be an understatement. One of the individuals said, “Well hey, isn’t this just political? You’re a Democrat, you don’t like Trump, that’s why you’re doing it.” And I said, “Well I twice sued the Obama administration.” I’m not naive enough to think I changed anyone’s mind, but I’m confident it made that individual look at my decision just a little bit differently. 

Washington does lead the way, and does not always get the national focus it deserves. Part of it is that we learned some hard lessons with the Japanese internment. 

I am fourth generation. My ancestors were here, we think, even before statehood or right around statehood. They homesteaded the Skagit River near what’s now Marblemount. There weren’t many nonnatives here back in the 1880s.

My kids are only nine years old, and we don’t talk about work much, but [they] have gotten very interested in the letters, especially because sometimes kids write these letters. Katie and Jack, twins, read one that was from a girl who’s eight, who’s from Iraq. And she wrote: “If you didn’t stand up, I wouldn’t be here.”

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