The order is in response to the administration's request for the high court to block a lower court ruling that could allow up to 24,000 refugees to enter the United States. The appellate ruling would allow refugees to enter the United States if a resettlement agency in the U.S. had agreed to take them in. The ruling would have taken effect Tuesday without the high court's intervention.
Update, Sept. 1: Foreigners who were barred from entering the U.S. during President Donald Trump's first attempt to ban travel from seven Muslim-majority nations will get government help reapplying for visas under a lawsuit settlement reached Thursday.
Under the terms of the settlement, the government agreed to notify an unspecified number of people overseas who were banned that they can reapply for visas with the help of a Department of Justice liaison for a three-month period. In return, the plaintiffs said they would drop all their claims.
This story was originally published on February 9, 2017.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban after lawsuits were brought by Minnesota and Washington state. The ban temporarily suspended the nation's refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns, according to the administration. (None of the perpetrators in any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil over the last 15 years have come from the banned countries.)
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 argued that 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 was unconstitutional on the grounds that it blocks individuals based on religion.
Both sides faced tough questioning during an hour of arguments Tuesday conducted by phone — an unusual occurrence — and broadcast live on cable networks, newspaper websites, and social media. It attracted a huge audience.
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.
"I have trouble understanding why we're supposed to infer religious animus when, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected," Judge Richard Clifton, a George W. Bush nominee, said to an attorney representing Washington state and Minnesota.
Only 15% of the world's Muslims are affected by the executive order, the judge said, citing his own calculations.
"Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries to terrorism?" Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, asked the Justice Department attorney.
In the lower-court case, Robart, the Seattle judge, halted the ban after determining that the states were likely to prevail, and had demonstrated that the ban would restrict travel by their residents, damage their public universities, and reduce their tax base. His ruling effectively put the executive order on hold while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.
After that ruling, the State Department retreated, allowing people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — with valid visas to resume travel to the U.S. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports round the country.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.
However, the Supreme Court has a vacancy, and there's no possibility that Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed in time to preside over the case. That could result in a 4-4 split among the other sitting judges, which would automatically leave the 9th Circuit Court's ruling intact.
President Trump has not yet issued a formal statement on the court's decision, but did post this tweet minutes after the ruling was announced: