Federal appeals court: Seattle judge's halt on travel ban remains

A Seattle judge's ruling to temporarily block President Donald Trump's travel ban remains in effect after a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration's immigration policy.

Key developments of the case: 

  • Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a complaint days after Trump signed an executive order that barred travelers from 7 Muslim-majority countries.
  • The legal complaint asked a court to declare key provisions of the executive order unconstitutional and illegal.
  • U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle temporarily halted Trump's travel ban as he considered the lawsuit. He did this by granting a Temporary Restraining Order.
  • The Justice Department appealed to the 9th Circuit for the ban to be temporarily reinstated.
  • Government lawyers argued to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week that the ban was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority.
  • The federal appeals court noted that there are compelling public interests on both sides of President Donald Trump's travel ban, which is one reason it has generated so much scrutiny.
  • But the three judges on the U.S. Appeals Court unanimously decided to uphold the lawsuit brought by the Washington State's attorney general.
  • They rejected the administration's argument that courts did not have the authority to review the president's immigration and national security decisions.

The court battle is far from over. The Trump administration may go to the Supreme Court.

Scroll down below for a timeline of events leading to Thursday's decision, and below that you can find an expanded questions-and-answers section. In our Q&A we explain why Washington has the standing to challenge the ban. 

What is Trump's travel ban?

The president signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that he said concerned "extreme vetting."

It barred any non-U.S. citizen from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen from entering the United States.

The president established a 120-day ban on refugees, and a 90-day ban on visitors from 7 predominately Muslim countries thought to be a security risk to the United States.

The order also directed U.S. officials to review information as needed to fully vet foreigners asking to come to the U.S. and draft a list of countries that don't provide that information. That left open the possibility that citizens of other countries could also face a travel ban.

How did the State of Washington get involved?

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a complaint last week that asked the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington to declare key provisions of the executive order unconstitutional and illegal.

Ferguson also filed a motion for temporary restraining order seeking an immediate halt to the executive order's implementation in the state and nationwide. Read a full explainer on the lawsuit here. 

KIRO 7 News’ Essex Porter was at the news conference when the attorney general argued that the executive order violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and the First Amendment’s establishment clause, infringes on individuals’ constitutional right to due process and contravenes the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.

Oregon is supporting Washington state's lawsuit against Trump's executive order by signing a friend of the court brief in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals along with more than a dozen other states.

Related: Local tech giants willing to testify in AG's case against Trump's immigration ban

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.

What’s exactly did Robart’s ruling do?  

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle issued a ruling last week granting the restraining order brought by the state of Washington. This means Robart’s decision temporarily halted Trump’s travel ban.

Robart’s decision did three things. First, it recognized that Washington and a second state that joined in the request, Minnesota, had standing to ask for a restraining order. In other words, they were being harmed by the ban, so they could ask a court for help.

>> Trump's immigration ban: What to know

Second, the ruling required that the section of the travel ban that called for a 90-day halt to immigration from the seven countries, and the section that called for an indefinite suspension of immigration from Syria be lifted.

Third, the order put a halt to prioritizing refugee claims of certain religious minorities. Read a full story on the ruling here.

How did the Trump administration try to overturn Robart’s ruling?

Just hours after Robart’s ruling, the White House said the Department of Justice would request an emergency stay. An emergency stay is the act of temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding through the order of a court.

The appellate court this weekend denied the Trump administration's request to immediately set aside Robart's ruling.

President Trump turned to Twitter to accuse James Robart, appointed by President George W. Bush, and lawmakers of stepping over the line that separates the executive from the judiciary. To Trump, Robart is a "so-called judge" whose "ridiculous" ruling "will be overturned."

On Monday, the Department of Justice filed a motion with the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- requesting President Donald Trump's travel ban be temporarily resumed pending the White House’s appeal.

Arguments over that motion were made on Tuesday.

What happened during the appeals court arguments?

Tuesday's arguments between Justice Department attorney August Flentje and Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell were conducted by phone. More than 27,000 people viewed KIRO 7 News' stream of the arguments on Facebook.

Three judges heard arguments Tuesday. What to know about those judges:

  • David Madden, a spokesman for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the court's randomly assigned motions panel for this month will rule on the federal government's appeal.
  • The judges on the panel are Senior Judge William C. Canby Jr., appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980; Senior Judge Richard Clifton, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002; and Judge Michelle T. Friedland, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014.

The judges repeatedly asked Flentje whether the government had any evidence that the travel ban was necessary, or that keeping it on hold would harm national security. They expressed skepticism over his argument that the states don't have standing to sue, and over his assertion that the courts have little to no role in reviewing the president's determinations concerning national security.

Purcell faced tough questioning from Clifton, who said he wasn't necessarily buying the states' argument that the ban was motivated by religious discrimination, given that the vast majority of Muslims live in countries that aren't targeted by the ban.

KIRO 7 News’ Gary Horcher talked to an expert in constitutional law who said he believes Purcell had more winning punches than Flentje on Tuesday.

What was decided? 

In a unanimous decision on Thursday, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges upheld a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban.

The Trump Administration lost every major argument before the Appeals court.

The court said the administration failed to show that the order met constitutional requirements to provide notice or a hearing before restricting travel and presented no evidence that any foreigner from the seven countries was responsible for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

The court rejected the administration's claim that it did not have the authority to review the president's executive order.

The court decided the state can challenge the ban because of universities.

The ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals states :"According to declarations filed by the States, for example, two visiting scholars who had planned to spend time at Washington State University were not permitted to enter the United States; one was informed he would be unable to obtain a visa. Similarly, the University of Washington was in the process of sponsoring three prospective employees from countries covered by the Executive Order for visas; it had made plans for their arrival beginning in February 2017, but they have been unable to enter the United States."

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee says the federal appeals court's refusal to reinstate President Donald Trump's travel ban "is a victory for Washington state and indeed the entire country."

What’s next?

The lower court still must debate the merits of the ban, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from Trump's administration seems likely.

Donald Trump took to Twitter to say, "see you in court" after the Thursday ruling.

AG Feguson says President Donald Trump should withdraw his "flawed, rushed and dangerous" ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

He also said in a statement that if Trump doesn't pull the executive order, he "will continue to hold him accountable to the Constitution."

A law professor told the Associated Press the "million-dollar question" is whether the Trump administration would appeal a federal appeals court's refusal to reinstate the travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There’s a good chance that the case will end up at the Supreme Court. The travel ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the court takes up the issue. But the administration could change it in any number of ways, including expanding its scope and duration, which would keep the issue alive.

The Supreme Court has a vacancy, leaving it with just eight justices, raising the chance of a split outcome. In that case, whatever the 9th Circuit decides would stand.

The Trump administration is pushing to fill the vacancy with a new nominee, appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch. If he's confirmed in the coming weeks, that would erase chances for a tie vote.

How does this impact travelers?

Trump's order caused confusion for many foreigners trying to reach the United States. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made a comment on Tuesday that acknowledged that the rollout of Trump's executive order had been mishandled.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson first said after the Seattle judge’s ruling that the travel ban will remain halted as Robart considered the lawsuit. After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, the ban is still halted.

For now, Ferguson said this means families waiting overseas can now fly to the United States.

“If someone who may be waiting to board a plane overseas, wanting to come to the United States, has a ticket, does this apply to them now? The short answer is yes,” said Ferguson.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee and Ferguson greeted a Somalia native who was scheduled to arrive in Seattle two Saturdays ago but instead was sent back to Vienna.

Stay with kiro7.com for updates on this developing story. Anytime a big development happens, we will send a push alert to our free news app. Download it here. 

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