WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security complied with a judge's orders Saturday and stopped enforcing President Donald Trump's controversial entry ban, and the fast-moving legal dispute over the president's powers could land at the nation's highest court.
On Saturday evening, Trump administration lawyers filed a notice to appeal the Seattle federal judge's decision from Friday night that imposed a temporary, nationwide halt to Trump's order barring refugees and those from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the country.
While his administration followed the orders of U.S. District Judge James Robart, the president blasted out his unhappiness with an extraordinarily personal criticism.
"The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump said in a Saturday morning tweet. On a weekend trip to Florida, Trump went off to play golf, then returned to Twitter in the afternoon to say "many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country" because of the judicial decision.
Trump exaggerated the impact of Robart's order, and Democrats charged that the president was trying to intimidate the independent judiciary. "The president's hostility toward the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.
The State Department said that those with valid visas could enter the country. DHS said it would "resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure" that existed before Trump's more restrictive executive order.
Advocates encouraged travelers from the affected countries who qualified for entry to get on planes as soon as possible because of the unpredictable legal terrain.
The developments continued what has been a chaotic rollout of Trump's order, made on Jan. 27. More than a dozen legal challenges have been filed around the country, and only one judge so far has indicated that he was willing to let Trump's order stand.
The decision of Robart, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and has been on the bench since 2004, was the most consequential because of its national implications.
It is somewhat unusual for a district judge to issue an order that affects the entire country, but Robart said it was necessary to follow Congress's intention that "the immigration laws of the United States should be enforced vigorously and uniformly."
Justice Department lawyers were preparing to immediately ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to dissolve Robart's order, but had not filed anything as of Saturday evening. It will go to a panel of judges who consider such emergency requests, and that decision could be crucial.
While the losing side can then request intervention from the Supreme Court, it would take the votes of five justices to overturn the panel decision. The court has been shorthanded since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago, and ideologically divided between four liberal and four conservative members.
The issue could reach the high court in days — or weeks.
Robart granted a request from attorneys for the states of Washington and Minnesota who had asked him to stop the government from acting on critical sections of Trump's order. Justice and State department officials had revealed earlier Friday that about 60,000 — and possibly as many as 100,000 — visas already have been provisionally revoked as a result of Trump's order.
A U.S. official who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity said that because of the court case, officials would examine the revoking of those visas so that people would be allowed to travel.
Vice President Mike Pence defended the president's denunciation of Robart in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that will air today on ABC's This Week.
"I think the American people are very accustomed to this president speaking his mind and speaking very straight with them," Pence said.
He agreed with Stephanopoulos that Robart had the authority for his ruling, and said "we'll go through the process in the courts to get a stay of that order, so that, again, we can implement this action that is entirely focused on the safety and security of the American people."