US court says Trump travel ban unlawfully discriminates against Muslims

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries violates the US Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2018
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US court says Trump travel ban unlawfully discriminates against Muslims

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries violates the US Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday in another legal setback for the policy.
The Richmond-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, on a 9-4 vote, became the second federal appeals court to rule against the ban, finding that the Republican president’s own words demonstrated that bias against Muslims was the basis of the policy.
The US Supreme Court has allowed the ban, put in place by Trump with a presidential proclamation in September, to go into effect while litigation challenging it continues.
The 4th Circuit ruling went further than the earlier decision by the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the ban violated federal immigration law but did not address the question of whether it also violated the Constitution. The Supreme Court already has said it will consider both issues in deciding the legality of the ban in the coming months.
The justices are due in April to hear arguments over the ban and issue a ruling by the end of June.
“Examining official statements from President Trump and other executive branch officials, along with the proclamation itself, we conclude that the proclamation is unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam,” 4th Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in the ruling.
The travel ban challengers “offer undisputed evidence of such bias: the words of the President,” Gregory wrote, noting Trump’s “disparaging comments and tweets regarding Muslims.”
As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The court also took note of the fact that Trump in November shared on Twitter anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.
In the main dissenting opinion, Judge Paul Niemeyer said the courts should be deferential to the president on matters of national security. Niemeyer criticized the majority, saying his colleagues applied “a novel legal rule that provides for the use of campaign-trail statements to recast later official acts of the president.”
Trump’s policy, the third version of the ban that he has issued since taking office in January 2017, blocks entry into the United States of most people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Trump has said the policy is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by militants.
Thursday’s ruling upheld a Maryland-based district court judge’s decision in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several advocacy groups including the International Refugee Assistance Project.
“President Trump’s third illegal attempt to denigrate and discriminate against Muslims through an immigration ban has failed in court yet again. It’s no surprise,” ACLU lawyer Cecillia Wang said.


US sanctions Chinese military unit for buying Russian jets, missiles

Updated 58 min 44 sec ago
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US sanctions Chinese military unit for buying Russian jets, missiles

  • It was the first time a third country has been punished under the CAATSA sanctions legislation for dealing with Russia
  • US sanctions are meant to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, cyber attacks, interference in the 2016 elections, and other malign activities

WASHINGTON: The United States expanded its sanctions war against Russia to China on Thursday, announcing punitive measures against a Chinese military organization for buying Russian fighter jets and missiles.
Stepping up pressure on Moscow over its “malign activities,” the US State Department said it was placing financial sanctions on the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Ministry of Defense, and its top administrator, for its recent purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
Officials said it was the first time a third country has been punished under the CAATSA sanctions legislation for dealing with Russia, and signaled the Trump administration’s will to risk relations with other countries in its campaign against Moscow.
They also said that the US could consider similar action against other countries taking delivery of Russian fighter jets and missiles. US ally Turkey is currently talking with Moscow about an S400 deal.
“The ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia,” a senior administration official told journalists, insisting on anonymity.
“CAATSA sanctions in this context are not intended to undermine the defense capabilities of any particular country. They are aimed at imposing costs on Russia in response to its malign activities.”
CAATSA, or the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was passed in 2017 as a tool that gives the Trump administration more ways to target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions.
With regard to Russia, CAATSA arises from the country’s “aggression in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, cyber intrusions and attacks, interference in the 2016 elections, and other malign activities,” the State Department said.
The legislation allows the government to take action against those companies and individuals who have been placed on the CAATSA blacklist.
EDD and its director Li Shangfu became targets after taking delivery over the past year of the jets and missiles from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export entity already on the CAATSA blacklist for its support of the Assad regime in Syria.

More Russian entities added to blacklist
At the same time, the State Department also announced it was placing 33 Russian intelligence and military-linked actors on its sanctions blacklist under the CAATSA rules.
All of them — defense related firms, officers of the GRU military intelligence agency, and people associated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency disinformation group — have been on previous US sanctions lists and 28 of them have already been indicted by Russia election meddling investigator Robert Mueller.
“We will continue to vigorously implement CAATSA and urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide,” the State Department said.
The sanctions freeze any of EDD’s and Li’s assets in US jurisdictions.
They also restrict EDD’s access to global financial markets by blocking foreign exchange transactions under US jurisdiction or any transactions in the US financial system.
The senior official stressed that CAATSA is not going to be implemented across the board, but that the US was choosing Russia’s sale of “bigger ticket items” of “new, fancy, qualitatively significant stuff” that could have a “security impact” on the United States.
“The CAATSA was not intended to take down the economy of third party countries. It’s intended to impose appropriate pressures on Russia in response to Russian malign acts,” the official said.
The official declined to answer if the US would take similar action if Russia delivers S400 missiles to other countries such as Turkey, which is in talks to buy them.
However, he said, “You can be confident that we have spent an enormous amount of time talking about prospective purchases of things such as S-400s and Sukhois with people all around the world who may have been interested in such things and some who may still be.”
“We have made it very clear to them that these –- that systems like the S-400 are a system of key concern with potential CAATSA implications.”