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Federal Appeals Court To Hear Trump's Travel Ban Case


President Donald Trump's travel ban is back in court today. An appeals court in Virginia will hear oral arguments on the executive order that would temporarily block travelers from six mostly Muslim countries.

You may remember the original order caused chaos at U.S. airports before it was blocked by a judge. The administration rolled out a second version of the travel ban in March. That, too, though, was put on hold by judges who are concerned that it discriminates against Muslims. Joining me now is NPR's Joel Rose. Hi, Joel.


MARTIN: What can we expect today?

ROSE: Opponents of this executive order are expected to try to use the president's own words against him. They argue that this order is essentially a Muslim ban, like the one that Trump and his advisers have promised and talked about for years. And they argue it's unconstitutional because it discriminates on the basis of religion.

The government is going to - like, is expected to double down on the arguments it's been making all along, that this is about national security and that the administration needs to stop travel from these six countries, temporarily, until it can revamp security procedures because these countries are known to harbor terrorists. The administration rewrote the first executive order to try to address legal concerns about it, but judges in Hawaii and Maryland ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to win. And they put the executive order on hold again.

MARTIN: So all this really gets down to intent - right? - trying to prove that this new revised order may not say explicitly that it's about banning Muslims but that if you look at Donald Trump's own words on the campaign trail, that that would have been his intention.

ROSE: Right, that's a really big question here. Opponents of the executive order say that the court can and should look at the intent behind the order. For example, Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani said that the president asked him to craft a Muslim ban but to do it legally. But the government says the court should only look at the language of the executive order itself, that the rest of this is basically irrelevant.

MARTIN: Donald Trump has had a famously rocky relationship with courts and judges. Has he been tweeting yet about this particular hearing?

ROSE: Not yet about this one, but he has had a lot to say about previous cases and about the people involved. The president called the Hawaii ruling terrible and ridiculous. He accused the judge of ruling for political reasons and promised to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also weighed in here. Sessions said he didn't understand how a judge, quote, "sitting on an island in the Pacific", unquote, had the power to stop the president from implementing his own policy. This is sort of a recurring theme for President Trump. He also took to Twitter to blast a ruling out of San Francisco, where a judge blocked another of his executive orders - that one aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities.

MARTIN: OK, so stay tuned. Who knows? Today's case is going to be heard by the 4th Circuit in Virginia. Does that matter?

ROSE: The 4th Circuit is traditionally considered a more conservative appeals court, but that's been changing as new judges have been added to the bench. Democratic appointees now outnumber Republican ones. And this court has made the case a priority. In a really unusual move, they're going to skip the initial hearing with a three-judge panel, and instead more than a dozen judges are going to hear this case together. And the judges know that there's a lot of interest from the public on this one, so they're allowing audio of the hearing to be broadcast. So we're going to get a rare glimpse into how this process works.

MARTIN: No matter how you cut it, it's still a while before we get clarity on the travel ban.

ROSE: That's right. I mean, even if the Trump administration wins this case, there's still another ruling from the judge in Hawaii that's blocking the executive order. And there's a hearing on that one next week.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose. Hey, thanks, Joel.

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.