The US Department of Homeland Security complied with a judge's orders yesterday and stopped enforcing Donald Trump's controversial entry ban, and the fast-moving legal dispute over the President's powers could land at the nation's highest court.
Trump Administration lawyers filed a notice to appeal the Seattle federal judge's decision from Saturday that imposed a temporary, nationwide halt to Trump's order barring refugees and those from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the country.
While his Administration followed the orders of US District Judge James Robart, the President blasted out his unhappiness. "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump tweeted. On a trip to Florida, Trump played golf, then returned to Twitter to say "many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country" because of the judicial decision.
Trump exaggerated the impact of Robart's order, and Democrats charged that the President was trying to intimidate the independent judiciary. "The President's hostility towards the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous," Senator Patrick Leahy said.
The State Department said that those with valid visas could enter the country. DHS said it would "resume inspection of travellers in accordance with standard policy and procedure" that existed before Trump's more restrictive executive order.
Advocates encouraged travellers from the affected countries who qualified for entry to get on planes as soon as possible because of the unpredictable legal terrain. The first flights carrying previously barred travellers reached Logan International Airport in Boston, with more expected at airports across the country today.
The developments continued what has been a chaotic rollout of Trump's order. More than a dozen legal challenges have been filed around the country, and only one judge so far has indicated that he was willing to let Trump's order stand.
The decision of Robart, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and has been on the Bench since 2004, was the most consequential because of its national implications. It is somewhat unusual for a district judge to issue an order that affects the entire country, but Robart said it was necessary to follow Congress's intention that "the immigration laws of the United States should be enforced vigorously and uniformly". He was quoting from a 2015 appeals court ruling that had blocked President Barack Obama's executive action that would have made it easier for undocumented immigrants in the country to remain. It was never implemented because of legal challenges.
Justice Department lawyers were preparing to immediately ask the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to dissolve Robart's order. It will go to a panel of judges who consider such emergency requests. While the losing side can then request intervention from the Supreme Court, it would take the votes of five justices to overturn the panel decision. The court is ideologically divided between four liberal and four conservative members. The issue could reach the high court in days or weeks.
Robart granted a request from lawyers for the states of Washington and Minnesota. Officials had revealed that about 60,000 - and possibly as many as 100,000 - visas already have been provisionally revoked as a result of Trump's order.