World

Trump's travel ban: What you need to know about court case

US appeals court to rule on temporary suspension of Trump's controversial travel ban

WASHINGTON: Mr Donald Trump's executive order on immigration has legal experts grappling with a key question: How broad is the US President's reach when it comes to shaping migration policy?

His decree on Jan 27 slapped a blanket ban on entry for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days and barred all refugees for 120 days, except those from Syria who were blocked indefinitely.

The state of Washington filed a lawsuit testing the broad constitutionality of Mr Trump's order. It was based on claims that the state had suffered harm from the travel ban - for example, students and staff of state-funded universities were stranded overseas. Minnesota state later joined Washington in challenging the order.

On Feb 3, Seattle federal judge James Robart issued a temporary nationwide suspension of the order, which the US government swiftly appealed against.

The ultimate ruling in the case could clear confusion regarding Mr Trump's executive reach and leave a lasting legal impact.

WHERE THE CASE IS NOW

All eyes are on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, as it weighs the order temporarily halting the ban nationwide issued by Judge Robart.

A hearing before three judges on the court - two of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents and one by a Republican - took place on Feb 7 where lawyers representing the Trump administration and the two states faced tough grilling.

The hearing was focused on whether to lift the suspension of the ban, not on the constitutionality of the decree itself - a broader battle that looks likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The two Democratic-leaning states were backed in a court brief filed by 16 state attorneys-general. A number of groups have also filed briefs backing the states' efforts, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Centre - which monitors extremism in the US - and the HIAS refugee protection organisation.

Nearly 300 law professors and some 130 Silicon Valley firms have also submitted arguments supporting Judge Robart's opinion.

WHAT TRUMP'S SIDE SAYS

Mr Trump has dismissed Judge Robart as "a so-called judge" and voiced confidence that the judge's ruling will be overturned.

He justified his decree by invoking Article II of the Constitution, which grants the president authority to direct immigration policy and conduct foreign affairs.

The US government has defended the travel ban as a "lawful exercise" of authority and claimed the federal court erred in barring enforcement of the measure.

Mr Trump's argument is also founded in part on a 65-year-old provision of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the president to suspend US entry of any category of foreigners whose presence he deems "detrimental to the interests of the United States".

Government lawyers are trying to bolster this argument by saying that the judiciary is unqualified to decide on national security matters.

"Unlike the president, courts do not have access to classified information about the threat posed by terrorist organisations operating in particular nations, the efforts of those organisations to infiltrate the United States, or gaps in the vetting process," they wrote in their appeal.

WHAT OPPONENTS SAY

Those opposed to the White House decree also cited the Constitution, saying that the executive order violates its fundamental principles including those on equality, freedom of movement and freedom of religion.

They emphasised that the role of the judicial branch is to check the power of the executive, especially to protect minorities.

The states pinned the legitimacy of their complaint on the fact that the ban affects them through its negative consequences on employment, business and education.

They also warned that reinstating the ban could threaten public order, considering the chaos that broke out, especially in airports, following its hurried implementation.

HOW COURT MAY RULE

The court can opt to reinstate the ban, confirm its suspension - or schedule an additional hearing.

If the ban is restored, the authorities have yet to indicate if they have taken steps to avoid a repeat of the airport detentions and deportations which fuelled outrage the first time around.

If the court takes the second option, Judge Robart's decision will remain in place nationwide, keeping the US open to refugees and travellers from the seven targeted countries.

The losing party will be able to request the Supreme Court to take on the case.

IF SUPREME COURT STEPS IN

If the US' highest court accepts the case, five of the eight judges will be required to reverse the decision by the Court of Appeals. Achieving that majority poses a challenge: the Supreme Court is currently ideologically split between four conservatives and four progressives.

For the White House to gain the upper hand, Mr Trump's Supreme Court judge nominee (for the vacant ninth seat), conservativeNeil Gorsuch, must get confirmed by the Senate.

Source: Compiled by The Straits Times from AFP, REUTERS

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