A US appeals court has ruled against a revised travel ban by US President Donald Trump targeting six Muslim-majority countries. The ban is opposed by many as unconstitutional and likely headed for the Supreme Court.
The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that blocked the enforcement of President Donald Trump's executive order aimed at preventing travelers from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed at trial in showing that the executive order violated the prohibitions on religious discrimination contained in the US Constitution.
"Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation," wrote the chief judge of the circuit, Roger L. Gregory.
Gregory said the order "speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination."
The travel ban would have seen the administration suspend new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. An original version of the ban also included Iraq on the list.
The ban also sought to stop new refugee admissions from around the world for 120 days.
A Muslim ban?
Two federal courts, in Hawaii and in Maryland, have blocked the revised travel ban, with the judge in Maryland citing comments made by Trump and his aides during the campaign as evidence that the policy primarily targeted Muslims and, as such, was based on unconstitutional religious discrimination.
Trump notably said in an interview that "Islam hates us," and also promised to close US borders to all Muslims out of security concerns.
The Trump administration argued, however, that courts should consider only the text of the executive order, which doesn't mention religion. Government lawyers said the countries mentioned in the directives were chosen because they pose a terrorist risk, not because of their predominant religion.
The Trump administration had appealed both Hawaii and Maryland rulings.
Unexplained choice of countries
Critics have pointed out in their turn that nationals from the six countries mentioned in the ban have not been behind any significant terrorist attacks on US soil in recent times.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday his department would appeal the ruling.
The executive order Trump signed "is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe," Sessions said in a statement.
"The president is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States," Sessions said.
tj/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa)