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Sessions will ask for Supreme Court review after federal court upholds Trump travel ban

Last Updated May 25, 2017 7:43 PM EDT

A federal appeals court dealt another blow to President Trump's revised travel ban targeting six Muslim-majority countries on Thursday, siding with groups that say the policy illegally targets Muslims -- and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he's asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the decision. 

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that blocks the Republican's administration from temporarily suspending new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. So, this latest ruling preserves the status quo. The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit is the first appeals court to rule on the revised travel ban, which Mr. Trump's administration had hoped would avoid the legal problems that the first version encountered.

"Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation," the chief judge of the circuit, Roger L. Gregory wrote.

Shortly after the ruling was released, Sessions said he is seeking a review of the case in the Supreme Court. 

"President Trump's executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe," Sessions said in a statement. "The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court, which blocks the president's efforts to strengthen this country's national security. As the dissenting judges explained, the executive order is a constitutional exercise of the president's duty to protect our communities from terrorism. The president is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States."

"This Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defend the power and duty of the executive branch to protect the people of this country from danger, and will seek review of this case in the United States Supreme Court."

Sessions was criticized last month when he expressed outrage that an "island judge" -- a federal judge in Hawaii -- had the ability to block the travel ban in March. That case now rests with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California. 

"We are confident that the president will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the 9th Circuit. So this is a huge matter," Sessions said at the time. 

A central question in the case is whether courts should consider Trump's past statements about wanting to bar Muslims from entering the country.

The federal judge in Maryland who blocked the travel ban cited comments made by Mr. Trump and his aides -- such as outspoken spokesperson Katrina Pierson -- during the campaign and after the election as evidence that the policy was primarily motivated by the religion.

Trump's administration argued that the court should not look beyond the text of the executive order, which doesn't mention religion. The countries were not chosen because they are predominantly Muslim but because they present terrorism risks, the administration says.

Some of the 13 judges on the appeals court that heard arguments earlier this month seemed skeptical of the administration's argument. The judges made their decision this week mostly along party lines. 

"Don't we get to consider what was actually said here and said very explicitly?" said Judge James Wynn Jr., who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

Other judges worried about using a candidate's word to evaluate a policy's motive.

"Can we look at his college speeches? How about his speeches to businessmen 20 years ago?" said Judge Paul Niemeyer, who was tapped by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

Mr. Trump campaigned on putting some sort of Muslim travel ban in place. In the months since taking office, the president has taken a slightly more conciliatory approach. In a unifying speech he gave earlier this week in Saudi Arabia, the president said Muslims have to work together to combat extremism. 

CBS News' Paula Reid contributed to this report.