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[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump renewed his attack on the courts Wednesday, describing them as "so political" as a panel of judges weigh his executive order barring refugees and visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries.
The contentious ban has been frozen by the courts and has embroiled Mr Trump in an arm wrestle with the judicial branch, less than three weeks into his presidency.
Speaking to police chiefs and sheriffs, Mr Trump expressed "amazement" over a hearing on Tuesday of three federal appeals judges, who are considering whether to reinstate the ban.
Mr Trump said what he heard in proceedings was "disgraceful, just disgraceful." "I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased and we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political," he said.
Mr Trump's comments have sparked a firestorm in a country where such personal and vitriolic attacks by a president on another branch of government are rare.
The uproar extended to Mr Trump's own Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
He described Mr Trump's attack on the Seattle judge who froze the ban as "disheartening" and "demoralising" according to spokesman Ron Bonjean.
Mr Trump's ban was suspended nationwide on Friday, after two US states asked it to be overturned on grounds of religious discrimination and that it had caused "irreparable injury."
Taking up the case, the federal court of appeals in San Francisco heard oral arguments Tuesday.
A lawyer for Mr Trump's Justice Department argued that the president had clear authority to order the ban on national security grounds.
"This is a traditional national security judgment that is assigned to the political branches and the president," lawyer August Flentje argued.
Critics of the ban claim it violates the constitution by discriminating against people on the basis of their religion.
The judges - two of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents, and a third by a Republican - appeared skeptical of the government's case.
"Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries with terrorism?" asked Judge Michelle Friedland, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama.
Mr Flentje said the government had not had an opportunity to present such evidence, given the speed at which the case had moved.
The court must decide whether to maintain the lower court's suspension, modify it, or lift it. Its ruling was expected before the end of the week.
Experts say they believe the argument to reinstate the ban is facing an uphill struggle.
But the case is likely to eventually wind up on appeal in the Supreme Court, which currently is evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices. A tie there would leave in place the appeals court decision.
Mr Trump vented his frustration in tweets, referring to the ban's suspension as "the horrible, dangerous and wrong decision." He went further in a rambling speech to the law enforcement chiefs, which at points drew polite applause.
"It's really incredible to me that we have a court case that's going on so long," he said. "Now we're in an area that, let's just say, they are interpreting things differently than probably 100 per cent of the people in this room." "A bad high school student would understand this - anybody would understand this," he said.
Mr Trump then read out the text of a law - interspersed with his commentary - that confers on the president authority to suspend entry to any alien or class of alien deemed detrimental to the interests of the United States.
Mr Trump's decree summarily denied entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.
Top administration officials have argued it is needed to keep out Islamic State and Al-Qaeda fighters migrating from Middle East hotspots, insisting time is needed to implement stricter vetting procedures.
Travel analysis firm ForwardKeys says travel bookings to the United States fell 6.5 per cent week after the ban, compared to last year, with a sharp drop in numbers from countries subject to the ban: Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
The sudden roll-out and blanket nature of the ban sparked protests and international condemnation. Polls now show eroding public support for it in the United States, amid jubilant scenes at airports of returning immigrants.
Shifting the blame to his security advisers, Mr Trump said he had proposed giving a one-month notice, but his law enforcement experts told him "people will pour in before the toughness."
"I wanted to give like a month. I said, 'What about a week?' They said you'll have a whole pile of people perhaps, perhaps, with very evil intentions coming in before the restrictions." "I think it's sad, I think it's a sad day. I think our security is at risk today, and it will be at risk until such time as we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country, as chiefs, as sheriffs of this country. We want security."
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