Appeals court deals blow to Trump administration travel ban

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban May 15, 2017, outside a federal courthouse in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination,” a federal appeals court said Thursday in ruling against the ban that targets six Muslim-majority countries.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that blocks the Republican administration from temporarily suspending new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit is the first appeals court to rule on the revised travel ban, which Trump’s administration had hoped would avoid the legal problems that the first version encountered.

In all, ten of the thirteen judges who heard the case voted against the Trump administration.

The Supreme Court almost certainly would step into the case if asked. The justices almost always have the final say when a lower court strikes down a federal law or presidential action.

Trump could try to persuade the Supreme Court to allow the policy to take effect, even while the justices weigh whether to hear the case, by arguing that the court orders blocking the ban make the country less safe. If the administration does ask the court to step in, the justices’ first vote could signal the court’s ultimate decision.

A central question in the case before the 4th Circuit was whether courts should consider Trump’s past statements about wanting to bar Muslims from entering the country as evidence that the policy was primarily motivated by the religion.

Trump’s administration argued the court should not look beyond the text of the executive order, which doesn’t mention religion. The countries were not chosen because they are predominantly Muslim but because they present terrorism risks, the administration said.

The government’s “asserted national security interest … appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country,” wrote the chief judge of the circuit, Roger L. Gregory.

“Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute,” Gregory wrote. “It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

The first travel ban in January triggered chaos and protests across the country as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. Trump tweaked the order after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban.

The new version made it clear the 90-day ban covering those six countries doesn’t apply to those who already have valid visas. It got rid of language that would give priority to religious minorities and removed Iraq from the list of banned countries.

Critics said the changes don’t erase the legal problems with the ban.

The Maryland case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center on behalf of organizations as well as people who live in the U.S. and fear the executive order will prevent them from being reunited with family members from the banned countries.

“President Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution, as this decision strongly reaffirms,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case. “The Constitution’s prohibition on actions disfavoring or condemning any religion is a fundamental protection for all of us, and we can all be glad that the court today rejected the government’s request to set that principle aside.”

Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond, Virginia, and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.

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