Seattle judge rejects Justice Department's request to suspend court proceedings in travel ban case during review

US District Judge James Robart rules on the travel ban imposed by US President Donald Trump in this framegrab from a video.
US District Judge James Robart rules on the travel ban imposed by US President Donald Trump in this framegrab from a video.PHOTO: AFP

SEATTLE (REUTERS) - A US federal judge on Monday (Feb 13) rejected a Justice Department request to suspend Seattle courtroom proceedings over President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries until an appeals court has fully reviewed it.

The US Justice Department had argued that the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals should review the suspension of  Mr Trump’s order before more proceedings take place, including potential discovery into the president’s motives for the action.

Mr Trump’s order, which he called a national security measure meant to head off attacks by Islamist militants, barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except refugees from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.

US District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended Mr Trump’s order after its legality was challenged by Washington state, eliciting a barrage of angry Twitter messages from Mr Trump against the judge and the court system. That ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit in San Francisco last week, raising questions about Mr Trump’s next step.

At a Seattle court hearing on Monday, Judge Robart said he saw no reason to slow down the case, adding that he was “surprised” the Justice Department would seek a delay given Mr Trump’s angry tweets over the 9th Circuit ruling. Judge Robart ordered both sides to prepare to move forward.

Following the 9th Circuit’s decision, Mr Trump announced the possibility of a “brand new order” that could be issued as soon as this week. Mr Trump gave no details of any new ban he is considering.

He might rewrite the original order to explicitly exclude green card holders, or permanent residents, a congressional aide familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters last week.

Neither side discussed any new executive order at the Monday court hearing. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the administration would “maintain all options”regarding the legal strategy, including another order.

An unidentified judge on the 9th Circuit on Friday requested that the court’s 25 full-time judges vote on whether the temporary block of Mr Trump’s travel ban should be reheard before an 11-judge panel, known as en banc review. The 9th Circuit asked both sides to file briefs by Thursday.

The Justice Department did not say on Monday what position it would take on the 9th Circuit’s en banc decision, or whether it would ultimately appeal the suspension to the Supreme Court.

In a court filing on Monday, Washington’s attorney general said a Seattle judge should immediately allow discovery into the merits of its case. “We would oppose discovery,” Justice Department attorney Michelle Bennett said at the hearing.

In ruling from the bench, Robart did not make clear what the next steps in Seattle would be