Federal judges have pressed a lawyer for US President Donald Trump whether his travel ban discriminates against Muslims, focusing on Trump’s campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.
The three-judge panel from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle was the second court in a week to review Trump’s executive order banning citizens of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
The judges heard oral arguments Monday over whether to continue blocking the president’s revised travel ban.
The administration is seeking to overturn a temporary restraining order by Judge Derrick Watson of the federal district court in Hawaii against the executive directive. The government argues that the text of the order does not mention any religion and the ban is needed for national security reasons.
“No one has ever attempted to set aside a law that is neutral on its face and neutral in its operation on the basis of largely campaign trail comments made by a private citizen running for office,” said Jeffrey Wall, acting solicitor general defending the ban.
Wall said President Trump has backed off the comments he made at the heat of his election campaign, clarifying that what he meant back then was terrorists not Muslims.
“The executive order sets out national security justifications,” Judge Ronald Gould said. “But how is the court to know if in fact it’s a Muslim ban in the guise of a national security justification?”
Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general representing the state of Hawaii in this case, expressed disbelief at Wall’s argument and said Trump had repeatedly spoken of a Muslim ban both during and after the presidential campaign.
“This is a repeated pattern of the president,” Katyal said.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday that the administration was confident the executive order would be upheld by the appeals court. “The executive order is fully lawful and will be upheld. We fully believe that.”
Trump issued his first travel ban soon after taking office late in January, bringing chaos and protests to airports around the country. The directive’s enforcement was blocked by a federal judge in Seattle, a ruling that was unanimously upheld by the 9th Circuit panel.
Instead of appealing to the US Supreme Court, the president issued a revised version of the ban to make it more defendable in courts. However, Judge Watson blocked the new order from taking effect, citing “significant and un-rebutted evidence of religious animus” in Trump’s campaign statements.