U.S. federal appeals court blocks Trump's revised travel ban

A U.S. 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 White House says it remains confident its order is legal.

10 of 13 judges vote against Trump administration, which will appeal to Supreme Court

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to attend the NATO summit at the alliance's new headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. (Kevin Coombs/Reuters)

The U.S. Justice Department will ask the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling that dealt another blow to President Donald Trump's revised travel ban targeting six Muslim-majority countries.

On Thursday, 10 of 13 judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with groups that say the policy illegally targets Muslims. The revised travel ban "speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination," the ruling says.

The appeals court 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, Va.-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," wrote Roger L. Gregory, the chief judge of the circuit.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement saying the Trump administration is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court.

"The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court, which blocks the President's efforts to strengthen this country's national security," Sessions said.

White House spokesman Michael Short said the administration is confident its order is legal.

"These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence," he said.

Judges considered Trump's past comments

A central question in the case is whether courts should consider Trump's past statements about wanting to bar Muslims from entering the country.

The federal judge in Maryland who blocked the travel ban back in March cited comments made by Trump and his aides during the campaign and after the election as evidence 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.

Protesters against the travel ban demonstrate on May 15 outside a federal courthouse in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Some of the 13 judges on the appeals court that heard arguments earlier this month seemed skeptical of the administration's argument.

"Don't we get to consider what was actually said here and said very explicitly?" said Judge James Wynn Jr., who was appointed by former president Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Other judges worried about using a candidate's words to evaluate a policy's motive.

"Can we look at his college speeches? How about his speeches to businessmen 20 years ago?" said Judge Paul Niemeyer, who was appointed by former president George H.W. Bush, a Republican.


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