On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised his supporters he’d pursue a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Since ascending to the presidency, those words have come back to haunt him.
On March 6, the Trump administration handed down a revised travel ban — which made no mention of Muslims — after its first version was ruled likely unconstitutional by a judge in Seattle. The new order planned to temporarily suspend immigration from six Muslim-majority countries until the Department of Homeland Security could assess the threat posed to national security by those nations.
But that core provision of the ban was blocked by federal judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland less than two weeks later, on the grounds that the ban likely violated the Constitution because it targeted Muslims — a conclusion based largely on past statements made by Trump.
The U.S. Department of Justice appealed Chuang’s ruling, and on Monday, oral arguments before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals began. The DOJ’s lawyer, acting solicitor general Jeffrey Wall, argued that Trump’s statements should not be held against him because they were made before he took the oath of office.
“Candidates talk about things on the campaign trail all the time,” Wall said, challenging the court’s “psychoanalysis” of Trump’s intent with the travel ban. He also argued that “Trump wasn’t talking about Muslims all over the world; that’s why this isn’t a Muslim ban.”
Judge Robert King referred to a page on Trump’s website as evidence that he’s never “repudiated what he said” about wanting to ban Muslims from traveling into the U.S.
Though Wall explained the page as “an archived press statement before the campaign ended and he formed a government,” it mysteriously vanished Monday, just moments after Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about it during a press briefing.
The 4th Circuit typically leans left, and 10 of the 15 judges on the court are either Clinton or Obama appointees. Two of the five right-leaning judges recused themselves from the proceedings; Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III recused because Wall is his son-in-law. Judge Allyson Duncan also recused.
A ruling in the Trump administration’s favor wouldn’t automatically put the travel ban back in action — U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson, from Hawaii, also ruled against Trump’s travel ban. His ruling also addressed components within the travel ban that Chuang’s didn’t, like Trump’s ban on refugees. The Trump administration has appealed that ruling as well. Oral arguments will begin in the 9th Circuit of Appeals in Seattle on Monday, May 15.