SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, unanimously rejecting the administration’s claim of presidential authority and questioning its motives.
The panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S.
The court battle is far from over. The lower court still must debate the merits of the ban, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely. That could put the decision in the hands of a divided court that has a vacancy. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, could not be confirmed in time to take part in any consideration of the ban.
Moments after the ruling was released, Trump tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT,” adding that “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”
In response, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who leads one of the states that challenged the ban, said: “Mr. President, we just saw you in court, and we beat you.”
The appeals panel said the government presented no evidence to explain the urgent need for the executive order to take effect immediately. The judges noted compelling public interests on both sides.
“On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”
The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order.
“There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said.
While they did not rule on the actual merits of the states’ argument that the travel ban was intended to target Muslims, the judges rejected the government’s claim that the court should not consider statements by Trump or his advisers about wishing to enact such a ban. Considering those remarks, the judges said, falls within well-established legal precedent.
The Justice Department said that it was “reviewing the decision and considering its options.” It’s the first day on the job for new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was sworn in at the White House earlier Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence.
Immigration rights advocates expressed relief at the news, though they recognize it might be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The news comes as immigration rights advocates in Los Angeles and Phoenix are reporting neighborhood “sweeps” by federal agents of people in the country.
“Since the executive order was issued, hundreds of families here in Tennessee have been worried about what this means for their loved ones. At least for now, this unconstitutional executive order won’t keep families separated from their loved ones,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
“The unanimous decision makes clear that the courts will be an important check on the president’s unconstitutional and un-American instincts. We believe that Congress must play the same role.”
In Chicago, social justice advocates and families with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) applauded the court’s decision, saying that grassroots activism is helping to protect people.
“We have seen amazing solidarity nationwide, fighting for our neighbors, our friends, and our families, and we will continue to resist anti-immigrant and anti-refugee actions by the administration,” ICIRR said in a statement.
In Arizona, immigration and civil rights leader Petra Falcon said the decision was correct, both morally and legally. “We must never forget that this legal fight is about families, human beings whose lives are at stake,” Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona said in a statement.
“Reinstating Mr. Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban would have done even more damage to the lives of the tens of thousands of people whose worlds were turned upside down by the president’s executive order and his low regard for immigrants and the contributions they make every day to our already great nation.”
Along the U.S.-Mexico border, in San Diego, more immigrants, refugees and social justice advocates are coming together for a unified front to oppose what they see as an “assault” by the Trump administration, said Pedro Rios, director of the U.S./Mexican Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee.
“What has been heartening is that community members have been organizing and learning more about their rights. They have been learning how to get involved with community organizations and are really committed to protecting each other and upholding each other’s dignity,” he said.
“That has been different from previous years.”
Last week, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns.
Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism.
The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.
The appeals court sided with the states on every issue save one: the argument that the lower court’s temporary restraining order could not be appealed. While under 9th Circuit precedent such orders are not typically reviewable, the panel ruled that due to the intense public interest at stake and the uncertainty of how long it would take to obtain a further ruling from the lower court, it was appropriate to consider the federal government’s appeal.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said the ruling was thoughtful and supported by a great deal of legal precedent. More important, though, it was unanimous despite having judges who were appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents.
Both sides faced tough questioning during an hour of arguments Tuesday. The judges hammered away at the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also challenged the states’ argument that it targeted Muslims.
After the ban was put on hold, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with valid visas could travel to the U.S. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports round the country.
The ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the Supreme Court would take up the issue.
Equal Voice News contributed to this report, which has been updated. About the top image: Professor Fran O’Neal holds a sign during a Feb. 9 gathering at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to support an open campus and oppose the travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump. Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. of the Tuscaloosa News via AP