Federal judges today peppered a lawyer for President Donald Trump with questions about whether the administration's travel ban discriminates against Muslims, the second time in a week the issue has been in court. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who is defending the travel ban, told a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle that the executive order halting travel from six majority Muslim nations doesn't say anything about religion. "This order is aimed at aliens abroad, who themselves don't have constitutional rights," Wall said in a hearing broadcast live on C-Span and other news stations.
Advocates for refugees and immigrants rallied outside the federal courthouse in Seattle, some carrying "No Ban, No Wall" signs. Trump's executive would suspend the nation's refugee program and temporarily bar new visas for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Last week, judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether to affirm a Maryland judge's decision putting the ban on ice. They focused their questions on whether they could consider Trump's campaign statements calling for a ban on Muslims entering the US, with one judge asking if there was anything other than "willful blindness" that would prevent them from doing so. Today, Wall told the judges that "over time, the president clarified that what he was talking about was Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor or shelter them." Today's arguments mark the second time Trump's efforts to restrict immigration from certain Muslim-majority nations have reached the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit. After Trump issued his initial travel ban on a Friday in late January, bringing chaos and protests to airports around the country, a Seattle judge blocked its enforcement nationwide - a decision that was unanimously upheld by a three-judge 9th Circuit panel. The president then rewrote his executive order, rather than appeal to the US Supreme Court, and in March, US District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu blocked the new version from taking effect, citing what he called "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus" in Trump's campaign statements.