Lawyers for Virginia challenging Trump travel ban in court

Activity is seen outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals building in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration's immigration policy. The states said Trump's travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump's campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Lawyers for the state of Virginia are challenging President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, arguing in federal court that his seven-nation travel ban violates the Constitution and is the result of “animus toward Muslims.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said Friday’s hearing in a federal court in a Washington, D.C., suburb poses the most significant state challenge yet to Trump’s order. In a statement, he said it “will be the most in-depth examination of the merits of the arguments against the ban.”

Judge: Virginia can join challenge to Trump’s travel ban

The arguments scheduled in Alexandria, Virginia, come a day after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Because an order barring enforcement currently stands, the practical effect of any decision in Virginia may be muted for now.

Lawyers for Herring, a Democrat, are asking the judge for a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing that portion of the Jan. 27 executive order that bars anyone from those countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The state is not challenging that portion of Trump’s order suspending entry of refugees for four months.

“If the Commonwealth is successful in securing a preliminary injunction, it would indicate that Virginia is likely to prevail on the merits of its challenge to President Trump’s ban, and it will be a more durable injunction that will last all the way through trial — so potentially weeks or months,” Kelly wrote.

In a court document filed ahead of the hearing, Virginia’s lawyers challenge the constitutionality of the executive order and say there is “overwhelming evidence” that the executive order “resulted from animus toward Muslims.” Virginia also says the state, its residents and its public universities are harmed. One example it gives: university students and faculty from countries named in the executive order who are in the U.S. on work or student visas can’t leave for fear of not being allowed back in.

Until it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Seattle a week ago, the ban made headlines amid tearful stories of families separated and lives upended. Among them were two Yemeni brothers whose family sued in Virginia before the brothers, both green card holders, were allowed back into the country. The federal government has since said green card holders will not be barred from re-entering the U.S.

In the specific Virginia challenge, lawyers for the federal government wrote in a court filing opposing a preliminary injunction that Virginia doesn’t have the right to challenge the ban — and that the court doesn’t have the power to review the president’s executive order.

“Judicial second-guessing of the President’s determination that a temporary suspension of entry of certain classes of aliens was necessary at this time to protect national security would constitute an impermissible intrusion” on his constitutional authority, lawyers Dennis Barghaan and Erez Reuveni wrote.

Even if Virginia’s challenge is allowed to proceed, a preliminary injunction is not warranted, the U.S. government lawyers wrote.

Hearing the case Friday is Judge Leonie Brinkema, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1993.