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Trump travel ban to be heard by federal appeals court

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Deputy legal director of the National ACLU, Cecillia Wang, left the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals building in Richmond, Va., today. A panel of 13 judges listened to arguments today on the latest version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

RICHMOND, Va. >> President Donald Trump’s updated travel ban is headed back to a federal appeals court in Virginia.

Thirteen judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be asked to decide if the ban violates the constitution by discriminating against Muslims, as opponents say, or is necessary to protect national security, as the Trump administration says.

The hearing scheduled today comes four days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can fully enforce the ban even as the separate challenges continue before the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit appeals courts.

The 4th Circuit is being asked to reverse the decision of a Maryland judge whose injunction in October barred the administration from enforcing the ban against travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who have bona fide relationships with people or organizations in the U.S. The ban also applies to travelers from North Korea and to some Venezuelan government officials and their families, but the lawsuits didn’t challenge those restrictions.

Trump announced his initial travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations in late January, bringing havoc and protests to airports around the country. A federal judge in Seattle soon blocked it, and courts since then have wrestled with the restrictions as the administration has rewritten them. The latest version blocks travelers from the listed countries to varying degrees, allowing for students from some of the countries while blocking other business travelers and tourists, and allowing for admissions on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents say the latest version of the ban is another attempt by Trump to fulfill his campaign pledge to keep Muslims out of the U.S. The administration, however, says the ban is based on legitimate national security concerns.

The 4th Circuit rejected an earlier version in May, finding that it “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination” toward Muslims. The judges cited Trump’s campaign pledge on Muslim travelers, as well as tweets and remarks he has made since taking office.

“For the people here who are waiting for their families and friends to come to the United States, it has an impact on their faith. It denigrates their faith,” said Mariko Hirose, litigation director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the Maryland case.

The Trump administration also says the latest version of the ban was the product of a global review and evaluation of inadequate information-sharing practices of certain foreign governments on security issues.

“The fact that serious national-security risks are posed by some Muslim-majority nations cannot prevent the government from addressing those problems, especially after the kind of extensive, multi-agency review process that occurred here,” government lawyers argued in written briefs.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in a separate lawsuit filed in Hawaii. Much of Wednesday’s arguments focused on a narrower point: whether the president satisfied immigration law in issuing his latest travel order.

It is unclear when the appeals courts will rule, though both sides expect the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide on the legality of the ban.

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