The administration was scrambling for a new strategy over the weekend after federal courts put much of President Trump’s extreme-vetting executive order on ice, setting up an intense legal battle over the next few days.
Democrats and civil liberties groups cheered the rulings, first by a district court in Washington state Friday and then by the appeals court for the West Coast on Sunday, saying they were proof that the courts were prepared to check Mr. Trump’s agenda.
The Homeland Security Department said it had suspended all enforcement of Mr. Trump’s order and was inspecting and admitting immigrants and visitors alike as it had before the president’s Jan. 27 executive order, which had imposed a 90-day halt on most admissions from seven terrorism-connected countries and a 120-day pause on admitting new refugees worldwide.
“We believe the judge made the wrong decision,” Vice President Mike Pence told “Fox News Sunday.” “We are going to win the arguments because we’re going to take the steps necessary to protect the country, which the president of the United States has the authority to do.”
Courts have disagreed over the breadth of the president’s powers. A federal judge in Boston generally sided with the administration while U.S. District Judge James. L. Robart in Seattle sided with immigrant rights groups, businesses and attorneys for the states of Washington and Minnesota, who argued that refugees, immigrants and visitors had a right to enter the U.S.
Judge Robart issued a stunningly broad order halting the seven-country vetting policy and Mr. Trump’s refugee pause.
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“The executive order adversely affects the states’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” the judge said in his temporary restraining order issued Friday, though he didn’t give any specific legal reasons.
His ruling applies nationwide, and Homeland Security officials said they were complying even as the Justice Department filed an emergency appeal.
Two judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused that emergency appeal early Sunday and set a speedy schedule for briefs to be filed through Monday afternoon.
Mr. Trump fired back at Judge Robart on Twitter, calling him a “so-called judge” and saying he was endangering the U.S.
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
The president went on to say that he had instructed Homeland Security to inspect arrivals “VERY CAREFULLY.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill said Mr. Trump was wrong to criticize Judge Robart, a Republican appointee to the bench.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mr. Trump’s criticism of the Seattle judge could make it tougher for the Senate to approve his nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Democrats also reveled in the stinging legal setback for Mr. Trump.
“The nationwide hold on the president’s ban order is a victory for our values, our security and our Constitution,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “No matter how many times the president attacks this judge, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, it won’t change the fact that this ban is unconstitutional, immoral and dangerous.”
Judge Robart seemed cognizant of the stakes in his ruling.
“The court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents,” wrote Judge Robart. “The court concludes the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government.”
The 90-day halt affected seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Those countries were singled out by Congress and the Obama administration as danger spots whose visitors needed extra scrutiny, and the Trump administration piggybacked on those determinations.
More than 1,000 visitors from those countries were denied boarding in the week after the ruling, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Another 60,000 had visas provisionally revoked by the State Department as a result of the order.
Mr. Trump’s order sparked nationwide protests. Attorneys and demonstrators gathered at airports in an attempt to provide legal aid to affected travelers. A rash of lawsuits over the order have followed with varying results.
Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced Monday that she was refusing to defend the policy and declared that she did not believe the order was lawful or just. Mr. Trump relieved her and appointed federal prosecutor Dana Boente as acting attorney general.
In court filings this weekend, the Justice Department said federal law gives Mr. Trump broad powers to decide who can be barred from entering the U.S.
“Numerous presidents have invoked this authority,” the administration said in its appeal.
The Justice Department said it will let the appeals process play out rather than go to the Supreme Court.
Ironically, many of the arguments used to sink President Obama’s 2014 deportation amnesty are now being used to halt Mr. Trump’s crackdown.
In particular, Judge Robart said he couldn’t limit his policy to a few states because the Constitution required a “uniform” nationwide immigration policy.
That same logic was used against immigrant rights advocates when they sought to limit the effect of the ruling by a Texas judge who halted Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty for as many as 4 million illegal immigrant parents.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.