President Donald Trump argued on Wednesday that his power to limit immigration shouldn’t be challenged in courts, reading aloud in a speech from a U.S. statute giving the president authority to stop the entry of “any class” of foreigner. “You can suspend, you can put restrictions, you can do whatever you want,” Trump told a conference of police chiefs and sheriffs in Washington, after reading the law. “It just can’t be written any plainer or better.” A panel of three federal appeals court judges heard arguments Tuesday evening on whether to reinstate Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations, which was halted by a judge in Seattle. The judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco gave no clear sense of how they would rule. A decision may come this week.
But Trump made clear he is frustrated that the issue is being litigated at all, and he alluded to the 9th Circuit’s reputation for liberal leanings.
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“Now we’re in an area that, let’s just say they’re interpreting things differently than probably 100 percent of the people in this room,” he said.
The statute Trump read aloud says in part that “whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”
Trump’s aides have repeatedly pointed to that language as an unequivocal foundation for his controversial immigration order, which was met by protests at airports across the country and multiple court challenges.
“This isn’t just for me, this is for Obama, or for Ronald Reagan,” Trump said. “For the president. This was done for national security. It couldn’t be written any more precisely.”
The only error, he joked, was the statute’s use of the male pronoun. “I’m just noticing that,” he said. “It’s like, whoa, that’s not politically correct!”
The White House has not cited any specific threat that led to the order, and Republicans in Congress have complained that it wasn’t sufficiently vetted before Trump signed it on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. Democrats have labeled the order a “Muslim ban.”
Trump criticized the judge who issued the restraining order, calling him a “so-called judge” on Twitter on Feb. 4. During his campaign, Trump said an Indiana-born federal judge with Mexican heritage had an “inherent conflict of interest” because of Trump’s pledge to build a border wall. The judge, Gonzalo Curiel, was handling a lawsuit by people who said they were duped into paying thousands of dollars to Trump University.
The president refrained from criticizing the appeals court directly in his speech on Wednesday.
“I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased,” Trump said. “The courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right, and that has got to do with the security of our country, which is so important.”
“Right now, we are at risk because of what happened,” he said, adding later in the speech: “Believe me, I’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks. And terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.”
Whatever the ruling, the losing side is almost certain to turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.