Los Angeles: The Justice Department faced tough questioning Tuesday as it urged a court of appeals to reinstate President Donald Trump's travel ban targeting citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries -- put on hold by the courts last week.
In an hour-long telephone hearing, an attorney for the government argued that the immigration restrictions were motivated by national security concerns and that a 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," said the Justice Department lawyer, August Flentje.
He said Trump acted perfectly within his powers in issuing the January 27 executive order in the interest of the United States.
The three-judge panel from the court of appeals in San Francisco often appeared skeptical, with Judge Richard Clifton saying at one point that the government's argument was "pretty abstract."
They questioned Flentje about the evidence connecting the countries targeted to terrorism, and pressed him on whether the ban amounts to religious discrimination -- as its opponents claim.
An attorney representing the states of Washington and Minnesota -- which brought the federal lawsuit against Trump's ban -- also came under sustained questioning as he urged the judges to keep the decree on hold while the case runs its course.
"It has always been the judicial branch's role to say what the law is and to serve as a check on abuses by the executive branch," said Solicitor General Noah Purcell.
"That judicial rule has never been more important in recent memory than it is today, but the president is asking... to reinstate the executive order without full judicial review and throw this country back into chaos," Purcell added.
The hearing does not touch on the constitutionality of the decree itself, which is challenged in court by Washington and Minnesota, with support from numerous advocacy groups.
A court spokesman said a ruling would likely come later this week.
Trump's executive order barred entry to all refugees for 120 days, and to travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, triggering chaos at US airports and worldwide condemnation.