WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump fumed on Wednesday over what he called too much politics in the U.S. judiciary, while a federal appeals court kept him and the rest of the country waiting for its ruling on a temporary suspension of his travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard arguments on Tuesday on the Trump administration’s challenge to a lower court ruling putting the temporary travel ban on hold. The appeals court said it would rule as soon as possible but not on Wednesday.
On Saturday, Trump accused U.S. District Judge James Robart, the Seattle judge who suspended Trump’s order last week, of opening the United States to “potential terrorists.” Trump, who argues his Jan. 27 executive order is aimed at heading off attacks by Islamist militants, has repeatedly vented his frustration over the halt since then.
“I don’t ever want to call a court biased,” Trump told hundreds of police chiefs and sheriffs from major cities at a meeting in a Washington hotel on Wednesday. “So I won’t call it biased. And we haven’t had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political. And it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read the statement and do what’s right.”
Trump was also dismissive of Tuesday’s court hearing.
“I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well. OK? Better than, I think, almost anybody. And I want to tell you, I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful,” Trump said, referring to the appeals court proceedings.
The appeals court must decide whether Trump acted within his authority or violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on laws favoring one religion over another, as well as anti-discrimination laws, and whether it was tantamount to a discriminatory ban targeting Muslims.
The 9th Circuit is expected to decide the narrow question of whether a lower court judge acted properly in temporarily halting enforcement of the president’s order. While the court could take into account the strength of the arguments on both sides, this is just a first step in a fast-moving case.
Trump’s order barred travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except those from civil war-torn Syria, who are subject to an indefinite ban.
VIEWS OF JUDGES
Trump, a Republican, has made extensive use of presidential directives that bypass Congress since taking office on Jan. 20, and has appeared to be taken aback by legal challenges to his travel order.
He praised a federal judge in Boston who earlier ruled in his favor on the travel ban as a “highly respected” jurist whose findings were “perfect.”
On Saturday, Trump labeled the Seattle judge who put his directive on hold last Friday a “so-called judge” who made a “ridiculous” ruling. Robart was appointed to the bench by Republican President George W. Bush.
Last year, Trump accused Indiana-born U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel of bias in overseeing a lawsuit against one of Trump’s businesses, Trump University, because of his Mexican heritage.
Democrats and other critics have called Trump’s comments toward the judiciary an attack on a core principle of American democracy: that the courts are independent and uphold the rule of law. Under the Constitution, the judiciary is a co-equal branch of the U.S. government, along with Congress and the president’s executive branch.
At the meeting with law enforcement officials, Trump read from the law he cited to justify the travel ban, quoting it in fragments and sprinkling in bits of interpretation. He said the law clearly allowed a president to suspend entry of any class of people if he determines them to be a detriment to national security.
During Tuesday’s oral argument, the appeals court panel pressed an administration lawyer over whether the national security argument was backed by evidence that people from the seven countries posed a danger.
Judge Richard Clifton, also appointed to the bench by Bush, posed equally tough questions for a lawyer representing Minnesota and Washington states, which are challenging the ban.
The order, the most divisive act of Trump’s young presidency, sparked protests and chaos at U.S. and overseas airports.
Ultimately the matter is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is ideologically split with four liberal justices and four conservatives pending Senate action on Trump’s nomination of conservative appellate judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a lingering vacancy on the high court.
U.S. State Department figures showed that 480 refugees have been admitted to the United States since Robart’s order went into effect, including 168 on Wednesday. Of those admitted, 198 were from war-torn Syria.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham and Frances Kerry; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bill Trott and Howard Goller)
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