A Virginia-based federal appeals court on Thursday ruled against the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban affecting residents of six majority-Muslim countries ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision in the case this year.
In a 9-4 vote, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said it examined statements made by Trump and other administration officials, as well as the ban itself, and concluded that it is "unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam." It follows the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco issuing a similar ruling late last year.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already said it will consider the issue of the ban in April, with a ruling expected by late June.
Trump's third version of an executive order – sometimes referred to as "travel ban 3.0"-- restricts entry into the United States from six mostly Muslim nations but also includes North Korea and certain Venezuelan government officials.
The issue pits an administration that considers the restrictions necessary for Americans' security against challengers who claim it is illegally aimed at Muslims and stems from Trump's campaign call for a "complete shutdown of Muslims" entering the U.S.
The announcement was celebrated by opponents of the ban.
“President Trump’s third illegal attempt to denigrate and discriminate against Muslims through an immigration ban has failed in court yet again,” the ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs in the 4th Circuit appeal, said in a Thursday statement. “It’s no surprise. The Constitution prohibits government actions hostile to a religion.”
The ban is currently being enforced at the Justice Department’s request – at least until the case is fully litigated in the courts.
At issue is whether the temporary ban violates the religion clauses of the First Amendment, the due process clause of the Fifth and 14th Amendments, as well as the ban on nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas contained in a 65-year-old congressional law.
Trump's first travel ban was issued almost a year ago, almost immediately after he took office, and was aimed at seven countries. It triggered chaos and protests across the U.S. as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. Trump tweaked the order after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit refused to reinstate the ban.
The next version, unveiled in March, dropped Iraq from the list of covered countries and made it clear the 90-day ban covering Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen didn't apply to those travelers who already had valid visas. It also got rid of language that would give priority to religious minorities. Critics said the changes didn't erase the legal problems with the ban.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.