An appeals court has questioned whether President Donald Trump’s travel ban discriminates against Muslims.
The executive order temporarily banned entry for all refugees and visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries, until it was halted last week.
Judge Richard Clifton asked whether it could be discriminatory if it affected only 15% of the world’s Muslims.He is one of three judges on the appeals court in San Francisco, which will make its ruling later this week.
There was an hour of oral arguments from both sides on Tuesday. Whatever the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals decides, the case will probably end up in the Supreme Court.
The Justice Department was first to make its case, urging the appeal judges to reinstate the banning order. Lawyer August Flentje said Congress had authorised the president to control who can enter the country.
When asked to point to evidence that the seven countries affected – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – present a risk to the US, he said a number of Somalis in the US had been connected to the al-Shabab group. Then a lawyer representing Washington state told the court that halting the executive order had not harmed the US government.
Solicitor General Noah Purcell said the ban had affected thousands of residents of the state, with students delayed as they tried to come to Washington and others prevented from visiting family abroad. The final minutes of the hearing were spent on whether the travel ban amounted to a shut-out for Muslims, which would be unconstitutional. A 15-page brief issued by the Justice Department on Monday night argued the executive order was “neutral with respect to religion”. But in court on Tuesday, Mr Purcell cited Mr Trump’s campaign statements about a Muslim bant.—INP