The Justice Department filed legal notice of its intent to appeal in federal court in Maryland, setting up a new appeals court showdown in Richmond, Va.

Earlier this week, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland issued orders against the travel ban, finding it likely violated the First Amendment by disfavoring a particular religion. If the Justice Department had appealed the Hawaii order, the case would have gone to the same San Francisco-based appeals court that rejected an earlier version of the travel ban.

The First Amendment prohibits any “law respecting an establishment of religion,” meaning the government must remain neutral between religions — or between religions and non-religion — and not favor or disfavor a particular faith.

Critics of the executive order call it an attempt to fulfill President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States. The administration denies it is a Muslim ban, and says the order aims to prevent terrorism by suspending visitors from terror-prone countries where screening of individuals seeking U.S. visas may not be effective.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled against the first version of President Donald Trump’s executive order that suspended the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barred visitors from seven majority Muslim countries — Libya, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. A three-judge panel found that executive order violated the due process rights of people who had previously been approved to visit the United States.

In response to the legal setback, the White House crafted a new version that dropped Iraq from the list of countries and exempted holders of valid visas and green cards.

But the new version also quickly ran afoul of the courts.

In Hawaii, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson’s 43-page ruling used the public statements of the president and his senior advisers to conclude there was a “strong likelihood of success” that opponents of the travel ban would be able to prove the executive order violated the Constitution.

In the Maryland case, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang wrote that the origins of the travel ban suggests that religious screening, not national security, was the primary purpose.

By Devlin Barrett — The Washington Post