A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, has declined to reinstate U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting travel from six predominantly Muslim countries for three months.
In a ruling Thursday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the order did amount to a Muslim ban. “Laid bare, this Executive Order is no more than what the President promised before and after his election: naked invidious discrimination against Muslims,” the appeals court judges said in their 205-page ruling.
A majority of the panel of 13 judges ruling in the case cited Trump’s tweets, television interviews and statements posted on his campaign website as evidence of his intent.
Three judges dissented on the grounds that the executive order did not mention religion. “Far from containing the sort of religious advocacy or disparagement that can violate the Establishment Clause, the Order contains no reference to religion whatsoever. Nor is there any trace of discriminatory animus,” the dissenting judges wrote.
They also criticized the use of campaign material as evidence: “If a court, dredging through the myriad remarks of a campaign, fails to find material to produce the desired outcome, what stops it from probing deeper to find statements from a previous campaign, or from a previous business conference, or from college?”
On to the Supreme Court
In March, a federal judge in Maryland blocked the travel ban, which itself was a revised version of one initially issued in January that was tweaked after encountering legal roadblocks. The appeals court majority did not think the second version was an improvement: “Significantly, in revising the order, the executive branch did not attempt to walk away from its previous discriminatory order. Instead, it simply attempted to effectuate the same discrimination through a slightly different vehicle — the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The Trump administration’s next recourse is to take the case to the Supreme Court. Appeals court documents say the administration has 90 days to file an appeal.
A second appeals court, the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, is also considering an appeal of a stay against the travel order, this one issued by a judge in Hawaii; but, any ruling from that court has been rendered moot by Thursday’s Fourth Circuit ruling.
Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the ruling upholds “our most sacred and cherished constitutional principles…that our government may not favor or disfavor one religion over another.”