06:07, May 08 402 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-08 06:07:03
Trump travel ban: Virginia appeals court hears arguments in crucial next stage

The crucial next stage in the legal battle over Donald Trump’s attempt to ban entry to the US from several Muslim-majority countries will begin on Monday, when a federal appeals court in Virginia will hear arguments in the case.

In March, Trump issued a revised order that sought to temporarily halt new visas from six Muslim-majority countries and suspend refugee admissions. It was blocked by federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii. The streamlined order followed Trump’s first attempt to implement a travel ban, issued days after he was sworn into office, that was chaotically rolled out and quickly blocked by federal courts around the country.

The Trump administration is appealing the rulings against the March order in two appeals circuits, and the president has vowed to take the case to the supreme court should a decision in either venue go against him.

Central to both of these cases are public remarks made by Trump and members of his administration during the 2016 election and after his victory, which lawyers argue demonstrate the travel ban is designed to explicitly target Muslims and therefore violates the religious protection provisions of the US constitution. The administration argues the ban is justified on national security grounds.

Monday’s hearing in Virginia, before the fourth circuit of appeals, will occur in front of all 15 serving judges on the court, underlining the exceptional nature of the case. So-called en-banc hearings are extremely rare at the initial stage of a case and, according to professor Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond’s school of law, this could mean it takes longer for a ruling to be delivered.

The fourth circuit is comprised of nine judges nominated by Democratic presidents, five nominated by Republicans and one who was nominated by both.

“The fourth used to be one of the most conservative courts but has become more moderate partly due to many appointments by President Obama,” Tobias said. “The full court ruling is more likely to reflect this composition.”

Nonetheless, the Maryland ruling before the fourth circuit blocks only the part of Trump’s order that suspends refugee admissions. The case was brought by a collective of immigrant advocacy and legal groups, including the International Refugee Assistance Project (Irap), the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.

Irap director, Becca Heller, expressed confidence that the appeals court would uphold the ruling.

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Donald Trump: ‘This ruling makes us look weak’

“The courts have spoken, time and time again: the revised executive order is just as discriminatory and harmful as the first,” Heller said. “We are hopeful that the fourth circuit court will uphold the decision to block this Muslim ban.

“However, we will not stop until the ban is rescinded in its entirety and refugees who are fleeing from violence and persecution can continue to reach safety in the United States.”

The Trump administration’s challenge to the ruling in Hawaii will take place the following week in front of a panel of three judges in the San Francisco-based ninth circuit of appeals. The court is the same one that blocked Trump’s first order and has drawn unprecedented criticism from the president since then. Trump has threatened to “break up” the circuit and has lambasted the Hawaii ruling at rallies.

The temporary injunction in Hawaii is broader than the one issued in Maryland and blocks not just the president’s attempt to suspend refugee resettlement but also his attempt to block new visas from six Muslim-majority countries.

The US district judge who made the ruling in Honolulu, Derrick Watson, began receiving death threats shortly after it was issued. According to local reports in March, he has been receiving 24-hour protection from federal law enforcement.