Despite a last minute scrubbing of his website, President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge for a “temporary” ban on Muslims coming to the U.S. came back to haunt the lawyers defending his revised immigration ban in a court hearing Monday.
“This is not a Muslim ban,” Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall protested under tough questioning from 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges in Richmond, Virginia.
But Judge Robert King noted during oral argument that Trump has never walked back his campaign pledge to block Muslim immigrants and refugees.
“He’s never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban. It’s still on his website,” King said, referring to Trump’s campaign website promise for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Hours before the court hearing, the Trump campaign scrubbed its website, deleting Trump’s Dec. 7, 2015 campaign promise to keep Muslims out of the country.
ABC News’ Cecilia Vega said that Trump’s language was removed “minutes” after she asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer, during a press briefing on Monday morning, why the anti-Muslim pledge remained on the Trump campaign website. The court hearing began at 2:30 p.m. EST.
During the federal appeals court hearing on Monday, government lawyers asked the judges to allow the Republican president’s executive order to go forward. The revised order has been temporarily blocked by U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland on March 16.
Trump decided to revise his immigration ban after the first version of the ban was temporarily blocked by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles. The first version said that Christian refugees would be given preference.
Although the new version of the ban removed the preference for Christians, civil rights lawyers say Trump’s numerous public statements signal an anti-Muslim bias, and the fact that the executive order is directed against immigration from six predominately Muslim countries imposes a disproportionate impact on Muslim immigrants.
The ACLU has called the revised ban “Muslim Ban 2.0.”
The revised ban was also blocked by U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii in a separate legal challenge.
The Trump administration argued on Monday that both travel bans were needed to protect the United States from terrorism and that the text of the revised order does not violate the First Amendment because it does not mention or discriminate against any specific religion.
But Judge Pamela Harris said that Trump’s revised executive order had a disparate impact on Muslims, asking, “How is this neutral in its operation as to Muslims?”
Judge Chuang in Maryland blocked part of Trump’s March 6 revised executive order, which prohibits new visas to enter the United States for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for three months.
Another federal judge in Hawaii blocked another part of the revised order that suspended the entry of all refugees into the United States for four months.
Trump’s original order was signed on Jan. 27, just one week after he took office. That order, which went into effect immediately, triggered chaos and protests at airports because many immigrants with valid visas were not allowed to enter the country.
The appeals court in Virginia is expected to issue a ruling within the next several months, if not sooner.