Trump administration defends travel ban in court

US President Donald Trump
PHOTO: Reuters

The US 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.

The latest twist in the legal showdown comes four days after a federal judge suspended Trump's decree, opening US borders back up to the thousands of refugees and travellers it had suddenly barred from the country.

Read also: US court rejects bid to reinstate Trump travel ban

Three judges from an appellate court in San Francisco chaired the 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.

The high-stakes hearing saw an attorney for the government argue that Trump's immigration curbs were motivated by national security concerns and that the federal judge had overstepped his authority in suspending them.

Thousands protest Trump travel ban

  • Pro-Trump demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Lawyers and legal assistants network and use social media in the baggage claim area, amid supplies of pizza, water and other food, at Dulles International Airport, aiding passengers who have arrived and encounter problems because of Donald Trump's travel ban to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Police direct arriving passengers past dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators who cheer and hold signs at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A pro-immigration demonstrator holds a "Deport Trump" sign as she joins dozens of supporters to cheer international passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Volunteer lawyers work in a dining area of Terminal 4 to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Lawyer Darryl Hairston works with a team of volunteer lawyers to arrange habeus corpus petitions for travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Volunteer lawyers work in a dining area of Terminal 4 to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • People gather at Terminal 4 during a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators sit inside LAX international terminal and yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • LA resident Kara Doufash is seen during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators are seen during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators sit inside LAX international terminal and yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold signs during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Thousands of people attend an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Thousands of people attend an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Thousands of people attend an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold signs during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Several hundred people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest in Hamtramck, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Several hundred people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest in Hamtramck, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. The sign in Arabic (L) reads "Have you been stopped and questioned, we would like to talk to you, to assist with a lawyer".
  • Several hundred people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest in Hamtramck, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Several hundred people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest in Hamtramck, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Several hundred people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest in Hamtramck, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A person holds a sign out of the sun-roof of a car as it is driven past hundreds of people rallying against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A police officer stands on a baggage carousel as hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather at the Islamic Center of Washington for a march to the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to protest President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Activist Linda Sarsour addresses the crowd during a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer addresses the crowd during a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Cars pass by holding signs and honking their horns during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators march and block traffic during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators march and block traffic during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Cars pass by holding signs and honking their horns during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Protesters at Discovery Green Park during Super Bowl events in Houston, Texas, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Protesters and ACLU legal observer at Discovery Green Park during Super Bowl events in Houston, Texas, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Protesters at Discovery Green Park during Super Bowl events in Houston, Texas, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Muslim women pray during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Izzy Berdan (L) takes part in the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators gather in Copley Square for the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators take part in the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators spell out "# No Muslim Ban" during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Thirteen year-old Uma Gerweck joins the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the crowd gathered in Copley Square for the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators gather in Copley Square for the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People leaving the airport show their support while demonstrators yell slogans as cars drive by during an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Ron Modaresi with his family joins demonstrators who yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans as cars drive by during an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold a variety of signs during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Pain Shaikh, LA resident, joins demonstrators who yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • People leaving the airport show their support while demonstrators yell slogans as cars drive by during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Thousands of people attend an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Pakistani American Aisha Yaqoop, 23, of Atlanta, yells slogans during an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A young boy looks on as demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • An American Civil Liberties Union legal observer watches a flight arrivals board, as dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators greeted international passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. The observer was offering free legal advice to assist any detainees.
  • A police officer stands on the baggage carousel as people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest at the Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a temporary travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest at the baggage claim area at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • A woman with an American flag themed hijab listens to speakers during a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's immigration ban in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Hundreds of people rally against a travel ban signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in an executive order, during a protest at Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Women walk by a team of volunteer lawyers in their makeshift office working to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A young girl dances with an American flag in baggage claim while women pray behind her during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People gather at Terminal 4 during a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A young demonstrator holds a sign during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold signs during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators march and block traffic during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A woman exits the closed international arrivals hall during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside the international arrivals baggage claim during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A Muslim women holds a sign during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • A demonstrator holds a "resist" sign during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Volunteer immigration attorneys helping stranded travelers during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • Demonstrators hold signs during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017.
  • People gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People choose signs to hold during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • A small child bows down as adults gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • People gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Photographers make pictures of activists as they gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • An activist holds a sign outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.
  • Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.

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

He said Trump acted perfectly 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 which looks likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. A court spokesman said a ruling was likely later this week.

During the hearing the three-judge panel often appeared sceptical, with Judge Richard Clifton saying at one point that the government's argument was "pretty abstract." The judges questioned Flentje about the evidence connecting the seven countries targeted to terrorism, and pressed him on whether the ban amounts to religious discrimination - as its opponents claim.

Read also: Trump faces deadline in court battle over travel ban

The White House insists the decree is in the interest of national security, giving the new administration time to beef up vetting procedures to keep potential terrorists out of the country.

Its detractors claim that it violates the US Constitution by targeting people based on their religion.

An attorney representing the states of Washington and Minnesota - which brought the federal lawsuit against Trump's ban with support from numerous advocacy groups - 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 states' counsel also came under sustained questioning, with Judge Clifton, a George W. Bush nominee, appearing unconvinced by his arguments that the ban amounted to religious discrimination.

"I have trouble understanding why we're supposed to infer religious animus when in fact the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected," Clifton said, pointing out that less than 15 per cent of the world's Muslims were affected.

Read also: Travel ban stirs unease in Indonesia, Malaysia

Purcell argued that the states were not required to show that all Muslims would be affected but only that the ban was "motivated in part by a desire to harm Muslims." Trump's executive order barred entry to all refugees for 120 days, and to travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, triggering chaos at US airports and worldwide condemnation. Refugees from Syria are barred indefinitely.

Chaos at US airports after Trump orders halt on Muslim immigrants

  • President Donald Trump's order for "extreme vetting" of visitors and legal US residents from seven Muslim-majority countries sparked outrage and protests.
  • The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States.
  • He temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other countries.
  • Deportees cross the tarmac after arriving on an immigration flight from the US at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa.
  • Immigration lawyers, activists and Democratic politicians reacted furiously, and many worked to help marooned travelers find a way back home.
  • Hundreds of protesters gathered at airports in Dallas, Chicago, New York and elsewhere while inside, anxious family members waited and worried for travelers.
  • The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
  • Green card holders will not be allowed back in until they are re-screened.
  • Immigration workers process bags with belongings at an immigration facility after a flight carrying illegal immigrants from the U.S. arrived at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvado.
  • A deportee gets a snack as she is received at an immigration facility at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador.
  • Protestors rally against Muslim immigration ban At San Francisco International Airport.
  • Protestors rally during a demonstration against the new immigration ban issued by President Donald Trump at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City.
  • Protestors rally at a demonstration against the new ban on immigration issued by President Donald Trump at Logan International Airport on January 28, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • A demonstrator chants in celebration during a rally at San Francisco International Airport on January 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

Appearing to lay the groundwork for a setback, the White House earlier Tuesday sought to play down the significance of the upcoming ruling.

"All that's at issue tonight is the hearing is an interim decision on whether the president's order is enforced or not until the case is heard on the actual merits of the order," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters.

"That's why I think we feel confident." Hosting a group of American sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday, Trump hammered home the rationale for his decree as "common sense." Trump has lashed out at the Seattle judge who suspended his order, James Robart, as a "so-called" judge - a slur that drew criticism from his own Republican camp - and sought to pin blame on him, and courts in general, for potential future attacks on US soil.

"Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" he tweeted on Sunda

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES