A panel of 13 judges on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, reconvened on Monday to hear the government’s arguments in defense of the ban, presented by Acting US Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall.
The judges, mostly appointed by Democratic presidents, started immediately by questioning Wall about Trump's campaign pledges of a "total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US.
It was based on the same remarks that federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii ruled against the implementation of the ban in February and its revised version in March.
While the Maryland injunction only applies to rejecting visa applications from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Sudan for 90 days, the Hawaii ruling goes further and blocks Trump’s order to halt all refugee admissions for the same period.
"This is not a Muslim ban,” Wall told the court during the two-hour hearing. "Its text doesn’t have anything to do with religion.”
Judge Robert King, appointed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, said in response that Trump has never withdrawn his remarks about a planned ban on Muslims.
"He's never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban,” King said. "It’s still on his website.”
However, it turned out later on that the remarks had been removed from the website shortly before the hearing began.
Meanwhile, Judge Paul Niemeyer, appointed by former Republican President George H. W. Bush, called for respect for the executive branch of the government.
He argued that Trump, as president, held authority over immigration and blocking him amounted to overstretching the judicial authority.
"I don’t know where it ends,” Niemeyer said in the hearing. "It seems to me we have to function in our three branches, and give respect to other branches.”
Also present at the session was Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the organization that brought the anti-ban case in Maryland.
The court made no rulings and was expected to hold longer than usual deliberations before reaching a decision, given the importance of the case.
The appeals hearing for the Hawaii ruling will be held at the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, California, next week.