In travel ban case, U.S. judges focus on discrimination, Trump’s powers

People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) – U.S. appeals court judges on Monday questioned the lawyer defending President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban about whether it discriminates against Muslims and pressed challengers to explain why the court should not defer to Trump’s presidential powers to set the policy.

The three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel was the second court in a week to review Trump’s directive banning people entering the United States from six Muslim-majority countries.

Opponents – including the state of Hawaii and civil rights groups – say that both Trump’s first ban and later revised ban discriminate against Muslims. The government argues that the text of the order does not mention any specific religion and is needed to protect the country against attacks.

In addressing the Justice Department at the hearing in Seattle, 9th Circuit Judge Richard Paez pointed out that many of Trump’s statements about Muslims came “during the midst of a highly contentious (election) campaign.” He asked if that should be taken into account when deciding how much weight they should be given in reviewing the travel ban’s constitutionality.

Neal Katyal, an attorney for Hawaii which is opposing the ban, said the evidence goes beyond Trump’s campaign statements.

“The government has not engaged in mass, dragnet exclusions in the past 50 years,” Katyal said. “This is something new and unusual in which you’re saying this whole class of people, some of whom are dangerous, we can ban them all.”

The Justice Department argues Trump issued his order solely to protect national security.

Outside the Seattle courtroom a group of protesters gathered carrying signs with slogans including, “The ban is still racist” and “No ban, no wall.”

Paez asked if an executive order detaining Japanese-Americans during the World War Two would pass muster under the government’s current logic.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, arguing on behalf of the Trump administration, said that the order from the 1940s, which is now viewed as a low point in U.S. civil rights history, would not be constitutional.

If Trump’s executive order was the same as the one involving Japanese-Americans, Wall said: “I wouldn’t be standing here, and the U.S. would not be defending it.”

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins asked challengers to Trump’s ban about the wide latitude held by U.S. presidents to decide who can enter the country.

“Why shouldn’t we be deferential to what the president says?” Hawkins said.

“That is the million dollar question,” said Katyal. A reasonable person would see Trump’s statements as evidence of discriminatory intent, Katyal said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news briefing that the executive order is “fully lawful and will be upheld. We believe that.”

The panel, made up entirely of judges appointed by Democratic former President Bill Clinton, reviewed a Hawaii judge’s ruling that blocked parts of the Republican president’s revised travel order.


The March order was Trump’s second effort to craft travel restrictions. The first, issued on Jan. 27, led to chaos and protests at airports before it was blocked by courts. The second order was intended to overcome the legal problems posed by the original ban, but it was also suspended by judges before it could take effect on March 16.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii blocked 90-day entry restrictions on people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as part of the order that suspended entry of refugee applicants for 120 days.

As part of that ruling, Watson cited Trump’s campaign statements on Muslims as evidence that his executive order was discriminatory. The 9th Circuit previously blocked Trump’s first executive order.

Last week the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia reviewed a Maryland judge’s ruling that blocked the 90-day entry restrictions. That court is largely made up of Democrats, and the judges’ questioning appeared to break along partisan lines. A ruling has not yet been released.

Trump’s attempt to limit travel was one of his first major acts in office. The fate of the ban is one indication of whether the Republican can carry out his promises to be tough on immigration and national security.

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be the ultimate decider, but the high court is not expected to take up the issue for several months.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington)

Challenge to Trump travel ban moves forward in two courts

Yemen nationals reunited with family in US

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The most consequential legal challenge to U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban will proceed on two tracks in the next few days, including a U.S. appeals court vote that could reveal some judges who disagree with their colleagues on the bench and support the arguments behind the new president’s most controversial executive order.

In a Seattle federal courtroom, the state of Washington will attempt to probe the president’s motive in drafting his Jan. 27 order, while in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, judges will decide whether to reconsider an appeal in that same case decided last week.

Trump’s directive, which he said was necessary to protect the United States from attacks by Islamist militants, barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. Refugees were banned for 120 days, except those from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.

The ban was backed by around half of Americans, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, but triggered protests across the country and caused chaos at some U.S. and overseas airports.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended the order after its legality was challenged by Washington state, eliciting a barrage of angry Twitter messages from Trump against the judge and the court system. That ruling was upheld by a three-judge panel at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last week, raising questions about Trump’s next step.

At a Seattle court hearing on Monday, Robart said he would move forward with discovery in the case, meaning the request and exchange of information pertinent to the case between the opposing parties.

Meanwhile, an unidentified judge on the 9th Circuit last week requested that the court’s 25 full-time judges vote on whether the temporary restraining order imposed on Trump’s travel ban should be reconsidered by an 11-judge panel, known as en banc review. The 9th Circuit asked both sides to file briefs by Thursday.

Since judges appointed by Democrats hold an 18-7 edge on the 9th Circuit, legal experts say it is unlikely a majority will disagree with the court’s earlier ruling and want it reconsidered.

Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who has studied the 9th Circuit, noted that one of the three judges who issued the original ruling was appointed by George W. Bush.

Even if the en banc vote fails, however, judges on the 9th Circuit who disagree with last week’s ruling will be able to publicly express their disagreement in court filings, which could help create a record bolstering Trump’s position.

Meanwhile, the government has signaled that it is considering issuing a new executive order to replace the original one. In that case, it could tell the 9th Circuit later this week that it does not want en banc review, because the case would be moot.

“You would think Jeff Sessions would do whatever he had to do to get this case ended as soon as possible,” Hellman said, referring to the recently appointed U.S. attorney general.

Israeli Archaeologists Unearth Gate of Gath

The Biblical city of Gath has been discovered in the Judean foothills.

The scientists with Bar-Ilan University discovered the fortifications and the gate to the city.  Gath was once home to Goliath, the giant slain by David as described in 1 Samuel 17.  The city was destroyed in 830 B.C. by Aramean King Hazael as described in 2 Kings 12:17.

Professor Aren Maeir, who is heading up the project, says the discovery is among the largest ever found in Israel and provides “substantial evidence” that Gath was a significant part of the Philistine empire.

The archeologists also found many other artifacts of life in Gath, including jugs that are nearly 3,000 years old, one featuring a rust-red frame and black spiral indicating the ancient Greek art found in the Philistine’s original region in the Aegean.

A temple and an iron production facility have also been found during the excavation.

The scientists said the temple has two pillars that are similar to the Samson story in Judges 28.  They say that the discovery shows the design with the pillars was common in Philistine architecture.

Dr. Maeir also said they have found evidence of the ongoing wars between the nation of Israel and the Philistines although people shouldn’t get too hopeful about one particular find.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him, but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time,” Maeir said.