U.S. President Donald Trump suffered another legal blow on Thursday when a court unanimously refused to reinstate his ban on refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The San Francisco federal appeals court’s ruling on Trump’s executive order — issued on January 27 with no prior warning and suspended by a lower court a week later — capped a turbulent first three weeks of his presidency.
A defiant Trump quickly pledged to battle on.
Within minutes of the decision he tweeted: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”
“It’s a political decision,” he told reporters later.
The Justice Department had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to restore the measure on an emergency basis, but the three-judge panel instead maintained the suspension ordered by U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle.
“We hold that the government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury,” the judges ruled.
Trump’s decree summarily denied entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.
The new Republican administration argued the ban was needed to prevent ISIS and Al-Qaeda fighters from reaching U.S. soil, but it prompted travel chaos and was roundly rejected by immigration advocacy groups.
Critics say the measure targeted Muslims in violation of U.S. law.
The San Francisco court said aspects of the public interest favored both sides, highlighting the “massive attention” the case had drawn.
“On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies,” the ruling said.
“And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”
While acknowledging that the Seattle judge’s ruling “may have been overbroad in some respects,” the panel said it was not their “role to try, in effect, to rewrite the executive order.”
“The government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States,” the court said.
The Trump administration has 14 days to file a petition for reconsideration of Thursday’s ruling, either by the same panel or “en banc” — meaning by every judge on the court.
Another option would be to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, although some analysts have argued that that path poses the possibility of an embarrassing defeat, given the unanimity of the San Francisco panel, which included a Republican-appointed judge.