0523 GMT July 24, 2019
The decision, written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, described Trump’s executive order in forceful terms, saying it uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination,” Reuters reported.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the government, which says the temporary travel ban is needed to guard against terrorist attacks, would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court.
In its 10-3 ruling, the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said those challenging the ban, including refugee groups and individuals, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order violates the US Constitution's bar against favoring one religion over another.
Gregory cited statements by Trump during the 2016 presidential election calling for a Muslim ban. During the race, Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslim's entering the United States" in a statement on his website.
The judge wrote that a reasonable observer would likely conclude the order's “primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs”.
The government had argued that the court should not take into account Trump's comments on the campaign trail since they occurred before he took office on Jan. 20. But the appeals court rejected that view, saying they provide a window into the motivations for Trump's action in government.
The appeals court questioned a government argument that the president has wide authority to halt the entry of people to the United States.
The Virginia-based appeals court was reviewing a March ruling by Maryland-based Federal Judge Theodore Chuang that blocked part of Trump’s March 6 executive order barring people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days while the government put in place stricter visa screening.
A similar ruling against Trump’s policy from a Hawaii-based federal judge is still in place. That ruling went farther than Chuang's order, blocking a section of the travel ban that also suspended refugee admissions for four months. The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals is still reviewing that decision.
Trump has lashed out at the judges and courts that have ruled against him, saying the 9th Circuit has a “terrible” record and calling its rulings on his policies “ridiculous”.
The March ban was Trump’s second effort to implement travel restrictions through an executive order. The first, issued on Jan. 27, led to chaos and protests at airports before it was blocked by courts.
The second order was intended to overcome the legal issues posed by the original ban, but it was blocked by judges before it could go into effect on March 16.