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Donald Trump

Challenges to Trump’s travel ban escalate in US courts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 5:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 7:27am

National security veterans from both parties and major US technology companies expressed opposition to Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban in a court case as his administration prepared on Monday to justify the measure, the most controversial policy of his two-week old presidency.

Trump’s executive order of January 27, temporarily barring entry to the United States of people from seven Muslim-majority countries and halting the US refugee programme, was suspended by a federal judge in Seattle on Friday. That opened a window for travellers from the seven countries to enter.

The government now has until 3 pm PST (2300 GMT, 7 am HK time Tuesday) on Monday to submit additional legal briefs to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in support of Trump’s order. A decision either way may ultimately result in the case reaching the US Supreme Court.

The new Republican president, who has said the travel measures are to protect the country against the threat of terrorism, has reacted to challenges to his ban by attacking the federal judge in Seattle and then the wider court system.

Ten former US national security and foreign policy officials, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, filed a declaration in the court case arguing the travel ban serves no national security purposes.

It was signed by former secretaries of state including John Kerry, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and former CIA directors Michael Hayden and Michael Morell.

Over the weekend, the appeals court in San Francisco denied the administration’s request for an immediate suspension of the federal judge’s temporary restraining order that blocked the implementation of key parts of the travel ban.

But the court did say it would consider the government’s request after receiving more information. Trump faces an uphill battle in the San Francisco court, which is dominated by liberal-leaning judges. And appeals courts are generally leery of upending the status quo, which in this case is the suspension of the ban.

On a visit to the military’s Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, Trump defended his order.

“Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11,” he said. “We need strong programmes for people who love our country,” Trump said, adding that he did not want to allow “people who want to destroy us and destroy our country” into the United States.

The measures put a 90-day ban on entry for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day halt to all refugees.

Top technology companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft banded together with nearly 100 firms on Sunday to file a “friend-of-the-court” brief with the appeals court, arguing the travel ban “inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth.”

Curbing entry to the United States as a national security measure was a central premise of Trump’s run for office, originally proposed during his campaign as a temporary ban on Muslims.

US presidents have in the past claimed sweeping powers to fight terrorism, but individuals, states and civil rights groups challenging the travel order say his administration has offered no evidence it answers a threat. Protesters have taken to the street accusing Trump of discriminating against Muslims.

The government says the president is exercising his constitutional authority to control borders and that the law allows him to suspend the entry of any class of foreigners who “would be detrimental to the interest of the United States.”

The New America think tank says that all of the people who have carried out fatal attacks inspired by Islamist militancy in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have been US citizens or legal residents. None of those attackers emigrated or came from a family that emigrated from one of the countries listed in the travel ban.

A businessman who had never held public office until he assumed the presidency on January 20, Trump has vented his frustration over the legal challenges with a volley of attacks on the judiciary.

Trump derided US District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who issued the temporary stay on Friday, as a “so-called judge.”

It is unusual for a sitting president to attack a member of the judiciary, which the US Constitution designates as a check on the power of the presidency and Congress. Democrats seized on Trump’s remarks to raise questions about how independent his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, might be.