Dealing a major blow to President Donald Trump, a federal appeals court today rejected a request by the Justice Department to immediately reinstate travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.
The Justice Department had made the request with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco as part of an appeal against a lower court order halting the travel ban on people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
The Trump administration had sought a temporary order restraining the ban nationwide, saying late Saturday night that the federal judge in Seattle overreached by "second-guessing" the president on a matter of national security.
The court asked challengers of the ban respond to the appeal, and for the Justice Department to file a counter- response by tomorrow.
Citing the president’s "sovereign prerogative" to admit or exclude aliens, lawyers for the Department of Justice earlier told the court that the states of Washington and Minnesota should not have been allowed to challenge the ban, and that a judge was wrong to stop Trump’s executive order.
Acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco forcefully argued Saturday night that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States — an assertion that appeared to invoke the wider battle to come over illegal immigration.
"Judicial second-guessing of the President's determination that a temporary suspension of entry of certain classes of aliens was necessary at this time to protect national security would constitute an impermissible intrusion on the political branches plenary constitutional authority over foreign affairs, national security, and immigration," Francisco said.
Earlier Saturday, the government officially suspended the ban's enforcement in compliance with order of the order of U.S. District Judge James Robart.
It marks an extraordinary setback for the new president, who only a week ago acted to suspend America's refugee program and halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries the government said raise terrorism concerns.
Trump’s executive order banned travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, suspended all refugee entry to the US for 120 days and indefinitely suspended entry for Syrian refugees.
Trump, meanwhile, mocked Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, calling him a "so-called judge" whose "ridiculous" ruling "will be overturned."
"Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision," he tweeted.
After Friday’s ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had suspended all actions to implement the immigration order and would resume standard inspections of travellers as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban. At the same time, it urged the Justice Department to challenge the ruling "at the earliest possible time".
Trump had exuded confidence that his administration would prevail in the government’s appeal of the ruling.
"Well win," Trump had told White House pool. "For the safety of the country, well win."
"The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart. Bad people are very happy!" Trump had said, expressing his clear displeasure over Robarts ruling.
"What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into US ?" he had asked in another tweet.
"Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision," he had tweeted to his 23.7 million followers.
Experts said the US had been brought to the brink of a full-blown constitutional crisis.
The Justice Department asked that the federal judge's order be stayed pending resolution of the appeal, so that the ban can "ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism."
The order had caused unending confusion for many foreigners trying to reach the United States, prompted protests across the United States and led to multiple court challenges. Demonstrations took place outside the White House, in New York and near his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump was attending the annual American Red Cross fundraising gala.
"We'll win," Trump told reporters Saturday night. "For the safety of the country, we'll win."
The State Department, after initially saying that as many as 60,000 foreigners from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen had their visas canceled, reversed course on Saturday and said they could travel to the U.S. if they had a valid visa.
The department on Saturday advised refugee aid agencies that refugees set to travel before Trump signed his order will now be allowed in. A State Department official said in an email obtained by The Associated Press that the government was "focusing on booking refugee travel" through Feb. 17 and working to have arrivals resume as soon as Monday.
The Homeland Security Department no longer was directing airlines to prevent visa-holders affected by Trump's order from boarding U.S.-bound planes. The agency said it had "suspended any and all actions" related to putting in place Trump's order.
Hearings have also been held in court challenges nationwide. Washington state and Minnesota argued that the temporary ban and the global suspension of the U.S. refugee program harmed residents and effectively mandated discrimination.
In his written order Friday, Robart said it's not the court's job to "create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches," but rather, to make sure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."
The Justice Department countered that "judicial second-guessing of the President's national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large."
Robart's order also imposes harm on U.S. citizens "by thwarting the legal effect of the public's chosen representative," it says.