Another federal appeals court ruled against President Donald Trump’s latest executive order banning nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries and two other nations from entering the United States.
The Richmond, Virginia-based US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 9-4 on Thursday that the third iteration of Trump’s travel ban unconstitutionally discriminates against Muslims. In the extraordinary ruling, Chief Justice Roger Gregory cited the president’s own Islamophobic statements — including his tweets — as “undisputed evidence” of anti-Muslim bias.
“Examining official statements from President Trump and other executive branch officials, along with the Proclamation [executive order travel ban] itself, we conclude that the Proclamation is unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam,” Gregory wrote. He added:
“Here the government’s proffered rationale for the Proclamation lies at odds with the statements of the president himself. Plaintiffs here do not just plausibly allege with particularity that the Proclamation’s purpose is driven by anti-Muslim bias, they offer undisputed evidence of such bias: the words of the President.”
“When we compromise our values as to some, we shake the foundation as to all,” Gregory warned.
“In sum, the face of the Proclamation, read in the context of President Trump’s official statements, fails to demonstrate a primarily secular purpose,” the court found. “To the objective observer, the Proclamation continues to exhibit a primarily religious anti-Muslim objective.”
The court noted that Trump could have “removed the taint of his prior troubling statements” but did not.
“In fact, instead of taking any actions to cure the ‘taint’ that we found infected [the second executive order travel ban], President Trump continued to disparage Muslims and the Islamic faith.”
The court voted along political lines, with Judge Paul Niemeyer blasting the ruling as an intrusion on the executive branch’s national security powers.
“This case involves an Article III court’s bold effort to second-guess US foreign policy and, in particular, the President’s discretionary decisions on immigration, implicating matters of national security,” wrote Niemeyer. “Our constitutional structure forbids such intrusion by the judiciary.”
Civil libertarians hailed the travel ban’s third defeat.
“President Trump’s third illegal attempt to denigrate and discriminate against Muslims through an immigration ban has failed in court yet again. It’s no surprise,” Cecillia Wang, the ACLU deputy legal director who argued the case in the Fourth Circuit, said in a statement. “The Constitution prohibits government actions hostile to a religion.”
Thursday’s ruling marks the latest defeat for Trump’s travel ban. Last December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco found that the ban violates federal law. The following day in Seattle, US District Judge James Robart partially blocked Trump’s ban.
However, the ban will remain in place until the Trump administration runs out of appeals.
Last October, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Trump, allowing the ban to go into effect, with a partial injunction. In January, the high court agreed to hear the case during its current term. Oral arguments are expected to begin this spring.