Washington — President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban on Monday faced the first of several crucial legal hurdles that could determine whether he can push through the most controversial and far-reaching policy of his first two weeks in office.
On Monday, the government has a deadline to justify the executive order temporarily barring immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and the entry of refugees after a federal judge in Seattle blocked it with a temporary restraining order on Friday.
The uncertainty caused by a judge’s stay of the ban has opened a window for travellers from the seven affected countries to enter the US.
Trump has reacted with attacks on the federal judge and then the wider court system, which he blames for stymieing his efforts to restrict immigration, a central promise of the Republican’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Democrats, meanwhile, sought to use Trump’s attacks on the judiciary to raise questions about the independence of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
At the weekend the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the Trump administration’s request for an immediate stay of the federal judge’s temporary restraining order that blocked nationwide the implementation of key parts of the travel ban.
But the court said it would reconsider the government’s request after receiving more information.
The government has until 1am GMT on Tuesday to submit additional legal briefs to the appeals court justifying Trump’s executive order. Following that the court is expected to act quickly, and a decision either way may ultimately result in the case reaching the US Supreme Court.
Top technology giants, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, banded together with nearly 100 companies on Sunday to file a legal brief opposing Trump’s immigration ban, arguing that it "inflicts significant harm on American business". Noting that "immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list," the brief said Trump’s order "represents a significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the US for more than 50 years".
The controversial executive order also "inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation and growth as a result", the brief added.
Trump, who during his campaign called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, has repeatedly vowed to reinstate the January 27 travel ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day bar on all refugees in the name of protecting the US from Islamist militants.
His critics have said the measures are discriminatory, unhelpful and legally dubious.
On Sunday, Trump broadened his Twitter attacks on US District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who issued the temporary stay on Friday, to include the "court system". A day earlier Trump derided Robart, who was appointed by former Republican president George W Bush, as a "so-called judge".
"Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril," Trump tweeted on Sunday. "If something happens blame him and court system."
Trump did not elaborate on what threats the country potentially faced.
It is unusual for a sitting president to attack a member of the judiciary. Vice-President Mike Pence defended Trump, even as other Republicans urged the businessman-turned-politician to avoid firing such fusillades against the co-equal judicial branch of government, which the US constitution designates as a check on the power of the presidency and congress.
Democrats, still smarting from Republicans’ refusal last year to allow the senate to consider former Democratic president Barack Obama’s nomination of appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, have seized on Trump’s attacks to question his nomination last week of Gorsuch.
"With each action testing the constitution, and each personal attack on a judge, President Trump raises the bar even higher for Judge Gorsuch’s nomination to serve on the Supreme Court," Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the senate, said in a statement.
"His ability to be an independent check will be front and centre throughout the confirmation process."
Republicans hope to swiftly confirm Gorsuch, a conservative appeals court judge tapped by Trump to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago.