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Federal appeals court partially revives Trump travel ban on 6 Muslim-majority countries

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Muslims and activists stand near a fence across the street from the White House to protest against the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban on Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
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A federal appeals court Monday partially revived President Donald Trump’s travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, allowing it to go into effect against people without a “bona fide” connection in the U.S., such as close family members.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means that the federal government can start blocking travel into the U.S. by most nationals of Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Chad who lack family in the country.

The decision partially reversed an order from Honolulu-based federal judge Derrick K. Watson, who blocked nearly the entire ban on the grounds that it “plainly discriminates based on nationality.” Watson ruled on a lawsuit brought by the state of Hawaii.

The 9th Circuit decision is a temporary measure before judges hear arguments Dec. 6 over the government’s appeal of Watson’s ruling. A panel of three judges — Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald M. Gould and Richard A. Paez — are considering the appeal. All were appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Trump signed his newest travel ban Sept. 24 to indefinitely halt travel from most citizens of the six countries, but Hawaii and Maryland-based federal judges issued orders stopping it just as it was about to go into effect in October.

Trump’s travel order also applied to North Koreans and certain Venezuelan government officials and their families, but judges allowed bans against those nationals to continue.

The 9th Circuit order is a win for the Trump administration, which has struggled since January in three attempts to push similar travel bans that immigration advocates and federal judges have largely described as illegal.

Judges have said the president’s bans either violated immigration law or were unconstitutional in discriminating against Muslims. The Trump administration has argued in federal courts that the bans fall within presidential power and are needed to protect Americans from potential terrorism.

The U.S. Supreme Court briefly allowed a prior travel ban to go into effect over the summer as long as people with close family in the U.S. were exempt from it.

White House officials said the latest ban was written after an extensive review of vetting procedures for nations around the world.

In issuing its order Monday, the 9th Circuit said that foreign nationals who have “bona fide” U.S. connections cannot be blocked. The court said those included “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins” who live in the U.S.

Lawyers for the Trump administration will also argue a separate travel ban case on Dec. 8 in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal is over a decision by Maryland-based U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang, who has also blocked the ban for people who did not have a “bona fide” U.S. connection.

Chuang wrote in October that Trump’s campaign trail comments about Muslims and his Twitter postings pointed to the ban being an unconstitutional example of discrimination against Muslims.

The Trump administration has vowed to take its case over the ban to the Supreme Court. If it does, it won’t be the first time. The administration was set to argue its prior travel ban in front of justices in October before the court dropped the case, saying it was moot because the prior travel ban in front of it — a temporary one — had expired.

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