‘What universe does that come from?’ Judges criticize travel ban weeks before it heads to Supreme Court

A panel of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard arguments Monday in Seattle over how broadly President Trump’s travel ban can be enforced, and seemed inclined to uphold exemptions that let U.S. residents’ relatives continue to arrive from banned countries.

The judges, Michael Hawkins, Ronald Gould and Richard Paez, who will issue their opinion later, will not decide whether the ban is legal. That question, one the same judges considered this year in a decision that suspended the ban, is left to the U.S. Supreme Court to take on when it hears arguments over the issue in about six weeks.

Instead, the judges are looking at who falls under the ban. They prodded lawyers from the Trump administration and the state of Hawaii, which has sued, about how immigration law applies to Supreme Court orders on who is exempt from it.

Trump originally signed the ban in January before it was blocked in federal courts. It was then modified and struck down again before the Supreme Court resurrected a limited version of it.

The ban, which went into effect on June 29, prevents travel to the U.S. by nationals of Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Iran for 90 days. Separately, it stops all refugee resettlement for 120 days. But the Supreme Court said that it can’t apply to anyone who has a “bona fide” relationship to a person or entity in the U.S.

Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Hashim Mooppan argued that the court should strengthen the ban by removing exemptions for people with specific relatives, such as grandparents, in the U.S. Currently, banned nationals can still travel if they have a grandparent in the U.S.

Gould, who like the other judges is a President Clinton appointee, seemed skeptical of the idea.

“How can the government take the position that a grandmother or a grandfather, or aunt or uncle, of a child in the U.S. does not have a close familial relationship? Like, what universe does that come from?” he asked.

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