United States President Donald Trump is clashing in court with Democratic state officials and civil liberties advocates over his plan to temporarily ban entry to the United States by refugees as well as travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries.
After a pair of rulings this week stopped parts of the ban from being enforced, the president vowed to appeal to the US Supreme Court if necessary to save the executive order he signed on March 6 after an earlier effort was blocked in the courts.
Below are some questions and answers about the legal fights.
Q: In recent days, two judges ruled against the administration on parts of the travel ban. How do those rulings differ?
A Hawaii federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday (15/03) against Sections 2 and 6 of Trump's executive order. Those are the heart of Trump's plan, restricting nationals from six "countries of particular concern" for 90 days, as well as all refugees for 120 days. On Thursday, a Maryland federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against one provision of Section 2, which deals with travel restrictions, but it leaves the temporary refugee ban in place. Although the Maryland ruling is narrower in scope, the Hawaii order covers refugees nationwide.
Does this mean the Trump administration has lost the cases and its executive order is defunct?
No. The order has a section that says if any provision of it is found to be invalid, the remainder will not be affected. So any part of the order not covered by the court rulings took effect at 12:01 a.m. EDT, or 11:01 a.m. local time on Thursday. Also, complex lawsuits such as these have many steps and the Trump administration may ultimately prevail as the cases get full hearings in court and on appeal.
What parts of the ban are left standing after the rulings?
Section 4 of the executive order requires "thorough review" of Iraqi nationals seeking a visa or admission to the United States, although such reviews are already extensive. Section 5 orders changes to the screening of all immigration applications, including "a mechanism to assess whether applicants may commit, aid, or support any kind of violent, criminal, or terrorist acts."
What happens next in the legal fight?
The Trump administration, through its lawyers at the Justice Department, is expected to appeal against one or both of this week's court rulings to regional appellate courts. Both the 9th Circuit and the 4th Circuit, where the appeals would be heard, have more judges appointed by Democrats than by Republicans. Last month, a panel of 9th Circuit judges upheld an order from a court in Washington that barred the first executive order from being implemented.
What is the Trump administration likely to say in its appeal?
The White House will assert the authority of the chief executive to issue orders limiting entry to the United States in service of national security. It laid out its justification for the action in the text of the executive order itself: "It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, including those committed by foreign nationals." Improving the screening and vetting procedures is crucial to meeting that goal, the administration says.
After the appellate courts rule, what is the next step? Is it a certainty that the US Supreme Court would take the case?
The only certainty at the Supreme Court is the justices' three-month summer vacation. They have the authority to accept or reject cases, and sometimes stay out of divisive cases, for procedural reasons or otherwise. This year they declined to hear a potentially landmark case about transgender rights that they had previously said they would hear.
Is it possible that Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, could be seated before the case goes to the Supreme Court?
Yes, but it is unlikely he would be seated in time to hear an emergency appeal. Gorsuch is due to appear next week for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators are likely to ask him about the travel ban. Republicans hope the Senate confirms him to the court by mid-April. That could mean he would be seated if the appeals follow a more traditional timeline, although it seems doubtful the administration would want to wait considering the urgent need for the order that it has asserted.