USA First Look

Federal appeals court will not immediately reinstate executive orders on immigration

A federal appeals court has denied a Justice Department request to reinstate President Trump's immigration orders.  

Banah Alhanfy is greeted by her uncle at Logan Airport in Boston after she cleared U.S. customs and immigration on special immigrant visa Friday. Alhanfy's father was an interpreter for the United States in Iraq and she arrived in the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban.
Brian Snyder/Reuters | Caption

A federal appeals court has upheld the ruling that blocked President Trump’s executive order that banned immigrants and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries as well as refugees, shifting a week-long legal battle in favor of the immigrants, protesters, and Democrats who decried the ban.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the Justice Department’s request to reinstate the orders early Sunday, just over a day after a judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order on the bans nationwide. The order barred immigrants and visa holders from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from entering the United States and placed a four-month-long ban on new refugees.

Seattle Judge James Robart had ruled late Friday that “the executive order adversely affects the states’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” making the burden imposed by the order too great without sufficient evidence to support the administration’s national security claims.

Many welcomed the decision, praising the checks and balances system that gives federal courts the authority to evaluate an executive’s moves and act when they believe the president has abused power in discord with the Constitution. Families and immigrant advocates gathered at airports across the country Saturday to welcome those now allowed to re-enter the country.

But Mr. Trump has spoken out against the courts, marking a defiance that could upset the balance of power between the branches of federal government.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” he wrote on Twitter early Saturday, following the initial restraining order.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), whose state filed the injunction that led to the ruling, characterized the remarks as “beneath the dignity” of the presidency and warned that such behavior could “lead America to calamity.” Other elected officials have echoed those concerns.  

Despite Trump’s protests, the federal appeals court upheld the Seattle decision. The administration has until Monday to reply to the ruling, and could call for further appeals and continued legal review of the order.

The government’s brief to the appeals court argued that Congress "vests complete discretion in the President" regarding the entry of foreigners in the country, allowing him to issue such bans without providing legal reasoning. The order focuses on "protecting against terrorism," and that "is sufficient to end the matter," according to the brief.

The government also criticized the restraining order as a "judicial second-guessing of the President's national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large."

But those arguments failed to find favor with the court, which sided with Judge Robart’s conclusions. Still, some say the ruling has left the issue open to further interpretation, allowing legal arguments to continue until the US Supreme Court weighs in.

“Does the executive order violate the equal protection of the laws, amount to an establishment of religion, violate rights of free exercise, or deprive aliens of due process of law?” Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, told The New York Times. “Who knows? The analysis is bare bones, and leaves the court of appeals, as well as the Supreme Court, with no basis to determine whether the nationwide injunction was proper.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.