Appeals court deals blow to Trump administration travel ban

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to unveil artifacts from the World Trade Center and Berlin Wall for the new NATO headquarters, Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Brussels. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP/KHON2) — A federal appeals court dealt another blow to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban targeting six-Muslim majority countries on Thursday, siding with groups that say the policy illegally targets Muslims.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that blocks the Republican’s 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.

“Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. 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 chief judge of the circuit, Roger L. Gregory wrote.

In all, 10 of the 13 judges who heard the case voted against the Trump administration.

Trump will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A central question in the case 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 that 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 says.

But Gregory wrote that looking at the statements was appropriate and said the executive order was “steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group.”

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.

On May 15, 2017, the State of Hawaii argued in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Hawaii federal district court Judge Derrick K. Watson’s order enjoining President Trump’s Executive Order nationwide on grounds that the Executive Order violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit’s decision in that case, Hawaii v. Trump, is still pending.

Hawaii lawmakers and state officials applauded Thursday’s decision, though they note that the issue is far from settled.

“This is an order that is very similar to ours. The thinking of the judges in the 4th Circuit was very much in line with the arguments we made with the 9th Circuit,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “What we’re going to do now is we’re waiting for them to come back with the decision. Whatever the decision they make in all likelihood there will be an appeal up to the Supreme Court.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D, Hawaii, said in a statement:

“The ruling today by the Fourth Circuit follows earlier decisions like that of Judge Watson in Hawaii in striking a blow against President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim Ban. The court’s 10-3 opinion is a stirring reminder that we are a county of laws and values. The court was right to focus on evidence that the Trump Administration’s defense of the ban was ‘provided in bad faith as a pretext’ for intolerance. Evidence like the President’s own promises on the campaign trail. As Chief Judge Gregory wrote, the order ‘speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.’

“The purpose of the Muslim ban has been made clear as day by the people who planned it, wrote it and issued it– to target a minority group for discrimination based on their religion. No amount of furious spinning now can deny President Trump’s own words. Court after court have now rightly applied our Constitution to stop this ban from doing harm to our fundamental American values.”

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.”

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