As a federal appeals court heard arguments over the validity of President Trump's executive order temporarily banning travel from seven mostly Muslim countries, some of the strongest evidence for his opponents came from the president's own words.
A key argument in the case is whether Trump's executive order violated the Constitution's ban on religious discrimination. Lawyers for the states of Washington and Minnesota have alleged that the order was designed to discriminate against Muslims.
Asked for evidence to support that claim, the lawyer for Washington pointed to "the public statements from the president and his top advisors," which he described as "rather shocking."
Trump called for a "Muslim ban" during his presidential campaign, Noah G. Purcell said. And the day he signed the order, he gave an interview to a Christian television network in which he said he wanted to give priority to Christian refugees.
The evidence indicates that the order was "intended to favor some religious groups over others," Purcell said, which would be a violation of the 1st Amendment's ban on an established religion.
Purcell encountered some skepticism from one member of the panel, Judge Richard R. Clifton, who noted that the seven countries covered by the order make up only a small part of the world's Muslim population. That would suggest that the order wasn't aimed at Muslims, in general, but at residents of countries that have a serious problem with terrorism, Clifton said.
"We do not need to prove" that the order "harms every Muslim," Purcell responded, just that it was intended to discriminate based on religion.
Trump's comments were also the reason that led former acting U.S. Atty. Gen. Sally Yates to say that the Justice Department would not defend the executive order. Trump fired Yates for taking that position.