The U.S. government on March 17 announced it is appealing a court decision blocking President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration from taking effect.
The Justice Department said in a court filing it would appeal a ruling by a U.S. District Court in the state of Maryland that halted the part of Trump's March 6 order temporarily banning the entry of travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries.
The Maryland court decision this week left standing a part of the Trump order that barred the entry of refugees to the United States for four months. But a U.S. District Court in Hawaii struck down both sections of the order in a broader ruling that prevented the order from moving forward as scheduled on March 16.
Trump's order also is being challenged in a U.S. District Court In Washington state, but that court said it wouldn't immediately move on the case to "conserve resources" and avoid duplicative rulings, since the other courts already have issued decisions.
The Washington court blocked an earlier version of the Trump travel order issued in January. The order currently being challenged, like the original one, bars visitors from Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. But it does not target Iraq, which was covered by the original order, and also does not apply to legal U.S. residents from the targeted countries who hold "green cards."
The judges in Maryland and Hawaii who blocked the order this week were highly critical of what they saw as illegal racial and religious motivations behind it.
"There is nothing 'veiled' about this press release: 'Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States'," said the judge in Hawaii, Derrick Watson, citing in his decision a press release distributed during Trump's campaign for the White House last year.
Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland said "the history of public statements [by Trump] continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the second executive order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban."
Chuang also questioned whether the Trump order wasn't illegally targeting people based on their nationality, noting that no previous president has sought to ban all the citizens from one country, much less six countries.
Critics of the order say it discriminates against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution's religious protection clause. They include state attorneys general, organizations representing refugees, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Immigration Law Center.
Trump says the measure is needed to protect the country from terrorist attacks. Trump has accused the judges that blocked his order of "unprecedented judicial overreach" and vowed to appeal the cases all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
"We're going to win. We're going to keep our citizens safe," the president told supporters at a rally on March 16. "The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on March 17 that the government would appeal all "flawed rulings" that blocked the order, but it is not immediately appealing the Hawaii court decision.
Legal analysts said the administration may have chosen to appeal the Maryland court ruling first because the U.S. Appeals Court in Richmond, Virginia, has more conservative justices than appeals courts on the U.S. west coast, making that court more sympathetic to the administration's arguments.