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Justice Department Urges Appeals Court To Reinstate Travel Ban


We begin this hour with the legal showdown over President Trump's suspension of the nation's refugee program and travel ban on people from seven majority Muslim countries. A federal judge in Seattle, James Robart, has a temporary stay in place which stops implementation of the president's order nationwide. The Justice Department has filed a brief with the federal appeals court seeking to overrule Robart and that the presidential order take effect.

Joining us with the latest is NPR's Joel Rose, who has been reading that brief. And Joel, bring us up to speed on what's happening with this particular lawsuit.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Right. This challenge was brought initially by Washington state and later joined by Minnesota. Those states won a temporary restraining order late Friday. The White House appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California which declined to overturn the lower court judge over the weekend, but it did set a brisk pace for briefings. The states filed theirs early this morning. The Department of Justice responded later in the day.

Now the appeals court has asked lawyers for both sides to appear by telephone for oral argument tomorrow, Tuesday, at 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time with a reporting going - a recording, rather, going out to the public, quote, "promptly after the hearing." So you get the sense that the court is moving very quickly to try to settle this.

SIEGEL: Now, the Justice Department filed its brief today. What does the Justice Department say?

ROSE: So Justice Department lawyers say the president has, quote, "broad powers," unquote, when it comes to immigration and national security. And Justice lawyers argue that it's pretty much settled law, that states don't have the authority to block his policies.

In their brief, the lawyers actually cite another federal judge in Boston who is hearing a similar challenge to President Trump's executive order but reached a very different conclusion on the question of a restraining order. In that case, Judge Nathaniel Gorton decided not to extend a temporary restraining order in Massachusetts until he can hear the full case. And in his ruling, Judge Gorton cited the president's broad authority when it comes to national security in a, quote, "ever more dangerous world," unquote.

SIEGEL: So they'll be arguing to let the president's order take effect. What about the states? What have they been saying - the states bringing the lawsuit about the - against the president - sort of taking effect?

ROSE: Washington state's lawyer argued that the Trump executive order harms the state in a couple of ways. One, it - Washington argues it's depriving the state of economic activity generated by immigrants who live and work and visit the state. And two, they argue it's caused major travel problems for students and faculty at the state university system which is legally part of the state of Washington.

The Washington lawyers also argue that the executive order is unconstitutional because it is intended, in their view, to discriminate against Muslims. The state's lawyer says there is, quote, "overwhelming evidence," unquote, of that in statements that President Trump himself and his advisers have made both during the election and since the inauguration. The White House and the Justice Department lawyers dispute that. They point out that the word Muslim does not appear in the president's executive order.

SIEGEL: So, Joel, for now at least, what is - what's the practical effect of all of this for travelers?

ROSE: Well, people from the seven countries named in the executive order are permitted entry to the U.S. as long as they have a valid visa. Refugees are also coming in as well. Basically this is the status quo from the before the president issued his executive order back on January 27.

But as I mentioned, this Washington case is going very quickly, and other cases are moving through other federal courts, so it's really difficult to make any predictions about, you know, how long the - how - about anything (laughter) with this executive order going forward.

SIEGEL: It sounds like one prediction we can make is that the status quo we'll obtain at least through 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time tomorrow.

ROSE: Robert, it certainly seems that way, but I don't know. In this case, I feel like you can't rule anything out.

SIEGEL: OK, all right (laughter). That's NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thanks.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.