President defiant as appeals court refuses to reinstate travel ban

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals building in San Francisco, California.
The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals building in San Francisco, California.PHOTO: EPA

LOS ANGELES • A United States federal appeals court has unanimously refused to reinstate President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, issuing a sharp rebuke in a ruling likely destined for the Supreme Court.

The ruling dealt the new President and his controversial law-and- order agenda a major defeat.

Mr Trump was defiant, tweeting 26 minutes later: "See you in court. The security of our nation is at stake!"

He told White House reporters that the decision was "political".

The 29-page ruling from a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the government had failed to make its case that a temporary freeze on the ban should be lifted, and called into question presidential power to limit immigration in the way Mr Trump did.

The judges rebuffed the contention that the states of Washington and Minnesota had no right to sue in the matter - and rejected the argument that courts have no authority to review an executive branch decision on immigration policy.

That notion "runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy", said the jurists, two of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents, the other by a Republican. The court announced the decision in an unsigned opinion, making it impossible for Mr Trump to single out one of them.

With his Jan 27 executive order, Mr Trump was making good on campaign promises to stop Muslims from entering the country to halt the flow of those whom he said might be secretly planning terrorist attacks. The act spurred protests across the US and a flurry of lawsuits, with the one from the states of Washington and Minnesota the first to reach an appeals court.

Reaction to the panel's decision was divided. Mr David Rivkin, a constitutional litigator who worked for Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, called it "deplorable".

Immigration advocates and other legal scholars lauded it. Professor Stephen Wasby of the State University of New York in Albany said it was "a wake-up call for the Trump administration".

In response to Mr Trump's tweet, Mr Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, tweeted: "We already saw you in court. You lost. And we are not sick of winning yet, Mr President."

Critics say the measure targeted Muslims, in violation of US law.

There was praise from those who had been denied entry to the US when the ban was first imposed. A Sudanese pharmacist in Khartoum, Mr Mohamed Al-Rashid, 38, said the court's decision "confirms all that America stands for". He was among those taken off a flight in Doha last month after the ban.

Now the case could end up in the Supreme Court. An immediate appeal would come before a divided eight-justice court awaiting approval of Mr Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch. Reversing Thursday's ruling would require a five-vote majority.

The prospective ninth justice told more than one senator he was dismayed by the President's attacks on the judiciary.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'President defiant as appeals court refuses to reinstate travel ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe