Trump’s travel ban explained: Decision expected soon on Seattle judge’s ruling

NOTE: This story was first posted on in Feb. 2017.  It was published before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on whether to reinstate President Donald Trump’s travel ban that was halted by a judge in Seattle. I wrote the majority of the copy and aggregated from previous team coverage to give our users a well-rounded look at the case before the appeals court decision. 

I’ve worked this story as breaking news on our digital platforms since Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit to invalidate key provisions in Trump’s executive order. Click here to see social media samples on this story. 

A Seattle judge’s ruling temporarily blocking President Donald Trump’s travel ban allows travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries once, barred under his executive order, to come into the United States.

Federal Judge James Robart’s decision remains in effect as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether the president’s executive order on immigration should be reinstated.

KIRO 7 News heard from a spokesman of the appeals court. We’re expecting a ruling in the coming days.

Here’s what we know now. Scroll down below for a timeline of events and then an expanded questions-and-answers section.

What is Trump’s travel ban?

The president signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that he said concerned “extreme vetting.”

It barred any non-U.S. citizen from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen from entering the United States.

Legal permanent residents — green card and visa-holders — from those seven countries who were out of the United States after Friday Jan. 27 could not return to the U.S. for 90 days.

The order also directed U.S. officials to review information as needed to fully vet foreigners asking to come to the U.S. and draft a list of countries that don’t provide that information. That left open the possibility that citizens of other countries could also face a travel ban.

How did the State of Washington get involved?

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a complaint that asked the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington to declare key provisions of the executive order unconstitutional and illegal.

Ferguson also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order seeking an immediate halt to the executive order’s implementation in the state and nationwide.

Read a full explainer on the lawsuit here.

KIRO 7 News’ Essex Porter was at the news conference on Jan. 30 when the attorney general argued that the executive order violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and the First Amendment’s establishment clause, infringes on individuals’ constitutional right to due process and contravenes the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.

Microsoft and Expedia are willing to testify in this case. Amazon is seeking its legal options.

What’s exactly did Robart’s ruling do?

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle issued a ruling last week granting the restraining order brought by the state of Washington. This means Robart’s decision temporarily halted Trump’s travel ban.

Robart’s decision did three things. First, it recognized that Washington and a second state that joined in on the request, Minnesota, had standing to ask for a restraining order. In other words, they were being harmed by the ban, so they could ask a court for help.

Second, the ruling required that the section of the travel ban that called for a 90-day halt to immigration from the seven countries, and the section that called for an indefinite suspension of immigration from Syria be lifted.

Third, the order put a halt to prioritizing refugee claims of certain religious minorities

Read a full story on the ruling here.

How did the Trump administration try to overturn Robart’s ruling?

Just hours after Robart’s ruling, the White House said the Department of Justice would request an emergency stay. An emergency stay is the act of temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding through the order of a court.

An appellate court over the weekend of Feb. 4 denied the Trump administration’s request to immediately set aside Robart’s ruling.

President Trump turned to Twitter to comment on Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, and lawmakers of stepping over the line that separates the executive from the judiciary. To Trump, Robart is a “so-called judge” whose “ridiculous” ruling “will be overturned.”

On Monday, the Department of Justice filed a motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — requesting that Trump’s travel ban be temporarily resumed pending the outcome of the White House’s appeal.

Arguments over that motion were made on Tuesday.

What happened during the appeals court?

Tuesday’s arguments between Justice Department attorney August Flentje and Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell were conducted by phone. More than 27,000 people viewed KIRO 7 News’ stream of the arguments on Facebook.

Three judges heard arguments Tuesday.

What to know about those judges:

  • David Madden, a spokesman for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the court’s randomly assigned motions panel for this month is the trio that will rule on the federal government’s appeal of a Seattle judge’s order temporarily blocking the travel ban.
  • The judges on the panel are Senior Judge William C. Canby Jr., appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980; Senior Judge Richard Clifton, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002; and Judge Michelle T. Friedland, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014.

The judges repeatedly asked Flentje whether the government had any evidence that the travel ban was necessary, or that keeping it on hold would harm national security. The Associated Press reports they expressed skepticism over his argument that the states don’t have standing to sue, and over his assertion that the courts have little to no role in reviewing the president’s determinations concerning national security.

Purcell faced tough questioning from Judge Richard Clifton, who said he wasn’t necessarily buying the states’ argument that the ban was motivated by religious discrimination, given that the vast majority of Muslims live in countries that aren’t targeted by the ban.

KIRO 7 News’ Gary Horcher talked to an expert in constitutional law who said he believes Purcell had more winning punches than Flentje on Tuesday.

What’s next?

The court could reinstate the ban, leave Robart’s ruling in place, or strike down the executive order.

If they let the president go forward with the ban, the order suspending the nation’s refugee program and immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries would take effect once again. But the courts could still strike it down later amid a legal challenge by Washington state and Minnesota.

Purcell argued that for procedural reasons, the simplest course for the court is to send the case back to Robart for more proceedings, and to take up the merits of the case only after Robart has issued a further ruling.

In addition to simply leaving Robart’s temporary restraining order in place or striking it down, the DOJ said the appeals court could narrow its scope, which it called over-broad.

Flentje suggested it could be limited to allow the president to ban travelers who don’t already have relationships with the United States, while allowing legal permanent residents, for example, to return to the U.S. from the seven countries. In questioning Purcell, Clifton followed up on that.

There’s a good chance that the case will end up at the Supreme Court. The travel ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the court takes up the issue. But the administration could change it in any number of ways, including expanding its scope and duration, which would keep the issue alive.

A decision from the appeals court has been promised within days.

How does this impact travelers?

Trump’s order caused confusion for many foreigners trying to reach the United States. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made a comment on Tuesday that acknowledged that the rollout of Trump’s executive order had been mishandled.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson first said after the Seattle judge’s ruling that the travel ban will remain halted as Robart considered the lawsuit. Now, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel is deciding whether the executive order immediately gets reinstated.

For now, Ferguson said this means families waiting overseas can now fly to the United States.

“If someone who may be waiting to board a plane overseas, wanting to come to the United States, has a ticket, does this apply to them now? The short answer is yes,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson after Robart’s ruling.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee and Ferguson greeted a Somalia native who was scheduled to arrive in Seattle two Saturdays ago, but instead was sent back to Vienna.

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