A dog named “Doggie” joins protesters in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, California on February 7, 2017 © AFP Josh Edelson

Agency Report

The US Justice Department was reported to have faced tough questioning as it urged a court of appeals to reinstate President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

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The latest twist in the showdown comes four days after a federal judge suspended Trump’s decree, re-opening US borders to the thousands of refugees and travellers who had been suddenly barred from the country.

Three judges from an appellate court in San Francisco chaired an hour-long telephone hearing followed online by more than 130,000 people — a record, the court said — and broadcast live to millions more on television.

During the high-stakes hearing, an attorney for the government argued that Trump’s immigration curbs were motivated by national security concerns and that the federal judge had overstepped his authority in suspending them.

“This is a traditional national security judgment that is assigned to the political branches and the president,” Justice Department lawyer August Flentje argued.

He said Trump had acted within his constitutional powers and those delegated to him by Congress in issuing the January 27 executive order in the interest of the United States.

Tuesday’s hearing was focused on whether to lift the suspension of the ban, not on the constitutionality of the decree itself — a broader battle that looks likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The appeals court would probably rule later this week, a court spokesman said.

The three-judge panel often appeared skeptical during the hearing, with Judge Richard Clifton at one point calling the government’s argument “pretty abstract.”

The judges questioned Flentje about the evidence connecting the seven targeted countries to terrorism, and pressed him on whether the ban amounts to religious discrimination, as its opponents claim.