"The executive order is fully lawful and will be upheld". Time and again, the Trump administration has resisted the characterization of the travel restrictions as a ban on Muslims - even though Trump, while campaigning for office, promised a "total and complete shutdown" on Muslims entering the United States.
USA district judges in Hawaii and Maryland have ordered key sections of the president's order frozen. He asked government lawyer Wall if the Trump order was like the Roosevelt mandate.
The U.S. Supreme Court could take up the issue if the appeals courts issue contradictory decisions.
They asked an administration lawyer about what one judge called Trump's "profound" campaign statements calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
The Justice Department maintains that the travel ban was animated by bona fide national security concerns, but US District Court Judge Derrick Watson disagreed in March, concluding that the executive order was likely motivated by a discriminatory objective.
The judges did not indicate when they will rule. That led to one of the most pointed interactions, when Judge Michael Hawkins asked this question.
"What the President did here falls squarely within his constitutional and statutory authority", Wall also said. In a challenge brought by Hawaii, Watson blocked the federal government from enforcing its ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries and its suspension of the nation's refugee program.
Monday's hearing was again before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, which Trump has complained about before on Twitter, accusing the San Francisco-based circuit of having a "terrible record".
In his ruling issuing the nationwide injunction, Judge Watson wrote that "a reasonable, objective observer - enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance - would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a goal to disfavor a particular religion".
Katyal said no, and suggested the president could work with Congress on legitimate measures. "There was no reference to Japanese in that executive order", he said, "and look what happened".
Wall, however, argues the president's policy is not a "Muslim ban", but rather Trump's good faith effort to protect rights while securing the homeland from foreign terrorists.
A United States government attorney insisted Monday that President Donald Trump's revised travel ban did not unfairly target Muslims, as a panel of federal judges weighed the legality of the order.
The first decree - which prompted mass protests and sowed chaos at USA airports - was blocked on grounds it violated the constitutional ban on religious discrimination, a ruling upheld on appeal. In this image made from a C-SPAN video, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, standing at left, presents his arguments during a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Seattle, Monday, May 15, 2017.
As the debate unfolded, supporters of immigrants and refugees rallied outside the Seattle courthouse, chanting and carrying "No Ban, No Wall" signs, The Associated Press reports.
Travel ban headed to SCOTUS?
"This order is aimed at aliens overseas, who themselves don't have constitutional rights", Wall said during the hearing broadcast live on C-Span and other news stations. Because Congress has already adopted a scheme regarding when people may be excluded from the country for terror-related activities, the president can not override that with his travel ban, they argue.
The Justice Department separately appealed a different federal judge's decision to halt the 90-day travel ban to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges will decide whether to uphold a Hawaii judge's decision in March that blocked the ban. Chuang only blocked the six-nation travel ban, saying it wasn't clear that the suspension of the refugee program was similarly motivated by religious bias.
They also say the president's ban is well within his authority to protect US borders. Today's case was heard by three judges who were all appointed by President Bill Clinton, so they could move relatively quickly.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall will argue for the administration, while Neal Katyal, a former acting attorney general, will represent the state of Hawaii, which sued to block the ban.
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins asked challengers to Trump's ban about the wide latitude held by US presidents to decide who can enter the country.
"How is a court to know if in fact it's a Muslim ban in the guise of national security justifications?"