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US appeals court takes up scope of Trump travel ban

by Pallavi VershaAugust 30, 2017

Judges for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle were skeptical of President Trump’s travel ban in arguments on Monday, as Department of Justice lawyers attempted to defend the federal government’s stance that grandparents and other relatives of U.S. residents are not exempt from the ban.

The travel ban, issued in January and revised in March, caused chaos at airports nationwide and gave rise to a global outcry. It has also prompted a cascade of litigation.

The appeals court didn’t issue a decision in State of Hawaii v. Donald Trump as the three-judge panel considered an interim ruling from the Supreme Court, but the judges on Monday gave some indication of where they stand. The revised travel ban, which temporarily suspends new visas and travel for people from the Muslim-dominated countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, was blocked by a Hawaii judge earlier in the year, and the same appeals court upheld the Hawaii court’s decision.

The Supreme Court issued a provisional ruling in June that the ban couldn’t be imposed on those with a “bona fide” relationship to someone in the U.S. — such as grandparents and other relatives — although the highest court kept many pieces of Mr. Trump’s ban in place for now. That ruling is in place until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules again on the matter, although the Supreme Court will take up the case again on Oct. 10.

“If a close familiar relationship is what’s needed for an individual, how can the government take the position that a grandmother or a grandfather, or aunt or uncle of a child in the U.S., does not have a close familial relationship? Like, what universe does that come from?” said Judge Ronald Gould, visibly frustrated with the government’s arguments.

The government interpreted such family relations as including immediate family members and in-laws, but it excluded grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. A judge in Hawaii overruled that interpretation, expanding the definition of who can enter to other categories of relatives.

The Hawaii judge also overruled the government’s assertion that refugees from those countries should be banned even if a refugee-resettlement agency in the U.S. had already agreed to take them in.

“Could you explain to me what’s significantly different between a grandparent and a mother-in-law, father-in-law?” Paez asked. “What is so different about those two categories? One is in and one is out.”

The case was heard by Judges Gould, Michael Daly Hawkins and Richard A. Paez. All three were appointed by President Bill Clinton. In June, the same panel ruled against Mr. Trump in one of the cases the Supreme Court will hear in October.

The DOJ maintains that the federal government successfully struck a balance that considers families while protecting national security.

The administration’s travel ban continues to be one of the most controversial issues of Mr. Trump’s presidency. The initial travel ban restricted entry from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. Both the original and the revised ban were immediately met with legal challenges.

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