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News > World

Appeals Court Judges Grill Trump's Lawyer over 'Muslim Ban'

  • A woman protests outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco.

    A woman protests outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 February 2017

At one point the Trump administration lawyer said, "I'm not sure I'm convincing the court."

President Donald Trump's administration asked a U.S. appeals court Tuesday to rule that a Washington state federal judge was wrong to suspend a travel ban the president imposed on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees.

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"Congress has expressly authorized the president to suspend entry of categories of aliens," attorney August Flentje, special counsel for the U.S. Justice Department, said under intense questioning from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"That’s what the president did here," Flentje said at the start of an hour-long oral argument conducted by telephone and broadcast live online. He said the president's order was valid under the U.S. Constitution.

The judges asked the U.S. government attorney what evidence the executive order had used to connect the seven countries affected by the order with terrorism in the United States. “These proceedings have been moving very fast,” Flentje said, without giving specific examples.

He said both Congress and the administration had determined that those seven countries posed the greatest risk of terrorism and had in the past put stricter visa requirements on them. "I'm not sure I'm convincing the court," Flentje said at one point.

Noah Purcell, the solicitor general for the state of Washington, began his arguments urging the court to serve "as a check on executive abuses."

"The president is asking this court to abdicate that role here," Purcell said. "The court should decline that invitation."

Trump's Jan. 27 executive order barred travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except refugees from Syria, whom he would ban indefinitely.

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Trump has defended the measure as necessary for national security. But individuals, states and civil rights groups challenging the ban said his administration had offered no evidence it responded to a threat.

Opponents have also been calling the travel ban directive a “Muslim ban,” arguing that it is discriminatory against Muslims as Trump publicly said he would favor Christian refugees and immigrants. It has been the most divisive act of his two-week presidency.

Following the travel ban, hundreds of protests erupted around the country and at airports in major cities calling for the end of the ban as well as other anti-immigration policies including Trump's directive ordering the construction of a wall with Mexico.

Although the legal fight over Trump's ban is ultimately about how much power a president has to decide who cannot enter the U.S., the appeals court is only looking at the narrower question of whether the Seattle court had the grounds to halt Trump's order.

Two members of the three-judge panel were appointed by former democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, and one was appointed by former President George W. Bush, which could suggest the court is not likely to rule in favor of Trump’s hardline anti-immigration policy.

The case against the Trump administration, brought by the states of Minnesota and Washington, is ultimately likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ahead of the hearing, the court said it would likely rule this week, but not Tuesday.

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