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Trump slams courts as judges mull travel ban

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriff's Association Winter Meeting on February 8, 2017

President Donald Trump slammed the courts Wednesday as “so political” as a panel of appellate judges weighed whether to reinstate an executive order barring US entry to refugees and nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries.

The travel ban, which plunged airports around the country into chaos after it was announced without warning January 27, has embroiled Trump in a willful test of strength with the US judiciary less than three weeks into his presidency.

Speaking to police chiefs and sheriffs, Trump expressed “amazement” over questions raised about the ban in a high-stakes hearing Tuesday by three federal appeals judges, saying what he heard was “disgraceful, just disgraceful.”

“I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased and we haven’t had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political,” he said.

The ban was suspended nationwide on Friday by a federal judge in Seattle, after two US states asked it to be overturned on grounds of religious discrimination and that it had caused “irreparable injury.”

Taking up the case, the federal court of appeals in San Francisco heard oral arguments in a live-streamed conference call in which a Justice Department lawyer argued that the president had clear authority to order the ban on national security grounds.

“This is a traditional national security judgment that is assigned to the political branches and the president,” Justice Department lawyer August Flentje argued.

Critics of the ban claim it violates the constitution by discriminating against people on the basis of their religion.

AFP / Christopher HUFFAKER, Kun TIANTrump’s Immigration Ban in Court

The judges — two of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents, and a third by a Republican — appeared skeptical of the government’s case.

“Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries with terrorism?” asked Judge Michelle Friedland, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama.

Flentje said the government had not had an opportunity to present such evidence, given the speed at which the case had moved.

The court must decide whether to maintain the lower court’s suspension, modify it or lift it. Its ruling was expected before the end of the week.

Experts say they believe the argument to reinstate the ban is facing an uphill struggle.

But the case is likely to eventually wind up on appeal in the Supreme Court, which currently is evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices. A tie there would leave in place the appeals court decision.

– ‘Horrible, dangerous and wrong’ –

Trump vented his frustration in tweets, referring to the ban’s suspension as “the horrible, dangerous and wrong decision.”

He went further in a rambling speech to the law enforcement chiefs, which at points drew polite applause.

AFP/File / Ryan McBridePeople gather at Copley Square on January 29, 2017 to protest US President Donald Trump’s executive order, which restricts refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries

“It’s really incredible to me that we have a court case that’s going on so long,” he said. “Now we’re in an area that, let’s just say, they are interpreting things differently than probably 100 percent of the people in this room.”

“A bad high school student would understand this — anybody would understand this,” he said.

Trump then read out the text of a law — interspersed with his commentary — that confers on the president authority to suspend entry to any alien or class of alien deemed detrimental to the interests of the United States.

Trump’s decree summarily denied entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.

Top administration officials have argued it is needed to keep out Islamic State and Al-Qaeda fighters migrating from Middle East hotspots, insisting time is needed to implement stricter vetting procedures.

– Blame shifting –

But the sudden roll-out and blanket nature of the ban sparked protests and international condemnation. Polls now show eroding public support for it in the United States, amid jubilant scenes at airports of returning immigrants.

Shifting the blame to his security advisers, Trump said he had proposed giving a one-month notice, but his law enforcement experts told him “people will pour in before the toughness.”

“I wanted to give like a month. I said, ‘What about a week?’ They said you’ll have a whole pile of people perhaps, perhaps, with very evil intentions coming in before the restrictions.”

“I think it’s sad, I think it’s a sad day. I think our security is at risk today, and it will be at risk until such time as we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country, as chiefs, as sheriffs of this country. We want security.”