The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Thursday upheld a nationwide preliminary injunction on President Donald Trump’s travel ban, continuing to block it from taking effect.
The court found that the ban, which targeted people from several Muslim-majority nations, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prevents the government from establishing religious orthodoxy or favoring one religion over another.
“Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute,” wrote Chief Judge Roger Gregory. “It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across the nation.”
After originally calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. as a candidate, Trump signed an executive order in January banning people from seven majority-Muslim nations from coming to the country. That document also suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program, indefinitely barring refugees from civil war-torn Syria. When the original travel ban was also challenged in the courts, the Trump administration vowed to rework it in a way they believed would comply with U.S. law.
A second version was issued in February, removing Iraq from the original list of barred nations. That version impacted travel from Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. The administration argues the ban is necessary to protect U.S. national security, but opponents say it only damages U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
By 10-3, the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. upheld the finding of a federal judge in Maryland who originally blocked the ban based upon comments from Trump during the campaign that the action was motivated by religion. Earlier this month, the federal appeals court heard the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Maryland and the National Immigration Law Center on behalf of HIAS, the Middle East Studies Association, the International Refugee Assistance Project and other people impacted by the executive order.
“President Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution, as this decision strongly reaffirms,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the lawyer who argued the case, said in reaction to the ruling Thursday. “The Constitution’s prohibition on actions disfavoring or condemning any religion is a fundamental protection for all of us, and we can all be glad that the court today rejected the government’s request to set that principle aside.”
The Trump administration argued that because religion was not explicitly mentioned in the travel ban, it does not violate the Establishment Clause. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday his department will appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defend the power and duty of the Executive Branch to protect the people of this country from danger, and will seek review of this case in the United States Supreme Court,” Sessions said in a statement.