San Francisco, Feb 8: President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its biggest legal test as a panel of federal judges prepared to hear arguments from the administration and its opponents about two fundamentally divergent views of the executive branch and the court system.
The government will ask a federal appeals court to restore Trump's executive order, contending that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States. But several states have challenged the ban on travellers from seven predominantly Muslim nations and insisted that it is unconstitutional.
Tuesday's hearing was to unfold before a randomly selected panel of judges from the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. It was unlikely the court would issue a ruling Tuesday, with a decision expected later this week, court spokesman David Madden said.
Whatever the court eventually decides, either side could ask the Supreme Court to intervene. US District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who on Friday temporarily blocked Trump's order, has said a judge's job is to ensure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."
Trump said Tuesday that he can't believe his administration has to fight in the courts to uphold his refugee and immigration ban, a policy he says will protect the country. "And a lot of people agree with us, believe me," Trump said at a roundtable discussion with members of the National Sheriff's Association.
"If those people ever protested, you'd see a real protest. But they want to see our borders secure and our country secure." The same day, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told lawmakers that the order likely should have been delayed at least long enough to brief Congress about it.
The Justice Department filed a new defence of the ban on Monday. Lawyers said it was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority to protect national security and said Robart's order should be overruled. The filing with the appeals court was the latest salvo in a high-stakes legal fight surrounding Trump's order, which temporarily suspends the country's refugee program and immigration from seven countries with terrorism concerns.
Washington state, Minnesota and other states say the appellate court should allow a temporary restraining order blocking the travel ban to stand as their lawsuit moves through the legal system.
The panel hearing the arguments includes two Democrat-appointed judges and one Republican appointee. The appeals court over the weekend refused to immediately reinstate the ban, and lawyers for Washington and Minnesota argued anew on Monday that any resumption would "unleash chaos again," separating families and stranding university students.