Appeals court sets hearing in travel ban case

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson has been receiving death threats since blocking President Trump’s travel ban the FBI said

A Virginia judge helped tee up an argument likely to be fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court over President Donald Trump's efforts to restrict travel to the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries.

US District Judge Anthony Trenga, in a 32-page opinion, found that the plaintiffs in the case - Linda Sarsour v. Donald Trump - were not likely to succeed in their challenge to the March 6 executive order barring travel from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and temporarily halting the refugee program.

Trenga wrote that the president "has unqualified authority to bar physical entry to the United States at the border".

"Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate goal of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that objective", he wrote.

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The Fourth Circuit may combine the Virginia case with the Maryland case as part of the appeal process, he said.

Trenga ruled that, despite Trump's past statements, the changes made from the first executive order, notably removing specific references to religion, meant it was not unlawful. "We're confident that the president's fully lawful and necessary action will ultimately be allowed to move forward through the rest of the court system".

The plaintiffs, activists affiliated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, promised an appeal.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson reportedly received death threats after issuing a nationwide halt on the ban in mid-March.

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"The illogic of the Government's contentions is palpable", Watson wrote in his ruling.

Earlier this month, after President Trump signed the second Executive Order, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said: "This scaled-back order represents a partial victory for Americans fighting for the rights of immigrants in the US and directly responds to several immigration cases and scenarios brought forward in CAIR's anti-ban lawsuit".

Trenga's ruling doesn't have an immediate effect on the ban, which was put on hold by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland last week. Most provisions remain blocked by court order.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said in court papers Saturday that the easy implementation of the laptop policy belies any claim that Trump's "hands are tied" by litigation seeking to overturn the travel ban on the grounds that it discriminates against Islam. He said national security did not appear to be the main goal of the ban.

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"It is no longer likely that plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate objective of (the travel ban) is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that (the travel ban) is a pretext or a sham for that goal", Trenga wrote.

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