In a 10-3 en banc ruling, the Fourth Circuit on Thursday upheld a block on President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel from six predominantly Muslim countries.
The Richmond, Virginia-based court is the first appeals court to rule on the revised travel ban. The ruling upholds the suspension of the second version of the the Trump administration’s travel ban. An earlier version was also blocked by the courts.
“Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation,” Chief U.S. Circuit Roger Gregory wrote for the majority.
The executive order called for temporarily suspending new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The president’s first travel ban, announced in January, resulted in chaos at the nation’s airports and fueled protests across the country. That ban was put on hold by a federal judge in Seattle, and the Ninth Circuit later refused to reinstate the order, prompting the administration’s rewrite.
But a central question that has dogged both versions of the proposed ban is whether courts should consider Trump’s campaign trail statements about wanting to bar Muslims from entering the country.
The federal judge in Maryland who blocked the latest travel ban cited comments made by Trump and his aides during the campaign and after the election as evidence that the policy was primarily motivated by the religion.
Trump’s administration argued that the court should not look beyond the text of the executive order, which doesn’t mention religion. The countries were not chosen because they are predominantly Muslim but because they present terrorism risks, the administration says.
Reaction to the ruling from opponents of the travel ban was swift.
The National Iranian American Council released a lengthy statement applauding the ruling and the court for standing up for “fundamental American values of liberty and freedom were under attack by the Executive branch with complicity from the Legislative branch of government.”
The ruling, the council said, “upheld the promise of America.”
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, said the ruling is indicative of an “overwhelming judicial consensus” that the president’s travel ban “is not only cruel and unnecessary but unconstitutional as well.”
Goitein said the president should rescind the ban once and for all “so we can move past this truly shameful chapter in this administration’s short history.”
The White House is expected to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court.
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