RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments from both sides Monday about President Donald Trump's revised travel ban.
A 13-judge panel is examining a ruling that blocks the administration from temporarily barring visas for citizens in six countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
An attorney for President Trump is urging the court to focus on the religiously neutral text of Trump's revised travel ban rather than the Republican's anti-Muslim campaign statements.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall told the appeals court that the court should not second-guess the president's national security decisions because of comments made last year during the presidential campaign.
Outside the courthouse, anti-ban protesters marched with signs and chanted. Inside the courthouse, the panel of judges grilled the attorneys about the constitutionality of the travel ban.
Is it necessary to protect safety? Or is it a violation of freedom of religion?
Asked judge Barbara Milano Keenan, "What does the executive order say about the nationals of these countries that make them detrimental to the interests of the United States, if they are allowed to go through normal channels?"
Responded attorney Jeffrey Bryan Wall, representing the government, "I think it mis-frames the question a little bit. The question wasn't suspending the entry of these nationals because he believes they're all terrorists. What he was saying was the previous administration of Congress designated these countries and their nationals took them out of the visa waiver program because of their links to terrorist organizations."
A major line of questions from the judges focused on whether President Trump's campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. can be considered the intent of this ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries.
Asked Judge Robert King, "He's never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban. It's still on his website. The District Court here found it on his campaign website today."
Answered Wall, "Judge King, it is an archived press statement from 16 months ago." The statement was taken down from the website today.
Judge Paul Niemeyer asked of the refugee group's attorney, "If a different candidate had won the election and then issued this order, I gather you wouldn't have any problem with that?"
Responded ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, representing the International Refugee Assistance Project, which filed the lawsuit, "Yes, your honor. I think McCrory and other cases teach us that the same action could be constitutional in some circumstances."
"[The judges] were unrelenting to both [sides]," said William Benos, an attorney with Williams Mullen and immigration law expert. "Ultimately, someone has to decide: to what extent is national security going to trump religious freedom?"
Benos says whatever happens, "the road has been paved to go to the Supreme Court."
Cases before the Court of Appeals are usually initially heard by a three judge panel. This is the first time in 25 years a case went initially before an En Banc panel. An En Banc panel consists of 15 judges, however two recused themselves in this case. The majority of judges hearing today's cases were appointed by Democratic Presidents.
There is no date set for when the judges will announce their decision. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Hawaii will hear oral arguments on May 15 on the other injunction on the travel ban. If parties in either case choose to appeal their verdicts, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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