A US Federal judge in Hawaii dealt another legal blow to President Donald Trump, issuing an emergency halt to his revised travel ban just hours before it was to go into effect.
US District Judge Derrick Watson on Wednesday put an emergency stop to Trump’s executive order, which aimed to temporarily bar entry to the US of most refugees as well as travellers from six Muslim-majority countries.
Judge Watson said the state of Hawaii showed a strong likelihood of success in its claims the order violated the establishment clause of the US Constitution, which prevents religious discrimination.
Critics of the ban argued it was discriminatory against Muslims.
The Republican president has said the policy is critical for national security.
More than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban, and Federal courts in Maryland, Washington state and Hawaii heard arguments on Wednesday about whether it should be put into practice early on Thursday.
Mr Trump’s first travel order signed on January 27, which was more sweeping than the second revised order signed on March 6, was also halted by a Federal judge.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer, asked about the judge’s order, did not comment.
In Maryland, lawyers told a Federal judge the measure still discriminated against Muslims.
Government lawyers argued the ban was revised substantially to address legal concerns, including the removal of an exemption for religious minorities from the affected countries.
“It doesn’t say anything about religion. It doesn’t draw any religious distinctions,” Jeffrey Wall, who argued for the Justice Department, said.
Lawyers for the ACLU and other groups said Mr Trump’s statements on the campaign trail and statements from his advisers since he took office made clear the intent of the ban was to ban Muslims.
The new version applies only to new visas from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen and temporarily shuts down the US refugee program.
It does not apply to travellers who already have visas.
Mr Trump called the ruling an example of “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said his administration would appeal it to the US Supreme Court.
“We’re going to win. We’re going to keep our citizens safe,” the president said at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.
“The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear.”
The judge issued his 43-page ruling less than two hours after hearing Hawaii’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the ban from being put into practice.