The Supreme Court ruled on Monday to take up the litigation over President Trump’s travel ban, but ruled that the administration could start blocking nationals from six Muslim-majority countries who don’t have relationships with U.S. citizens from entering the country.
The decision will reverse the actions of the lower federal courts that ruled to put Trump’s controversial policy completely on hold. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case involving travelers from six majority-Muslim countries and refugees in October.
Although the Trump administration may view the Supreme Court decision on Monday as a clear victory, the verdict could be reversed if proven that the travel ban is unconstitutional or illegal. Trump was quick to seize upon the Justices’ ruling claiming victory on the heels of prior travel ban court ruling defeats.
“Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” Trump said in a statement. “It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”
Trump’s travel ban was met with harsh scrutiny in federal courts, specifically when decisions of the courts, would fall within ruling the immigration ban crossed the line into a form of religious discrimination against Muslims. Some judges ruled that the travel ban showed bias based on nationality and exceeded the president’s authority without a firm national security justification.
Members of the Supreme Court this month. The court said it would hear arguments on the travel ban in October, noting that the government had not asked it to act faster. Credit Doug Mills/the New York Times
The Supreme Court’s action creates a setback for civil liberties and immigration groups working to eradicate two executive orders through legal action heightening the president’s battles with federal courts that began during the election campaign.
The revised travel ban, issued in March, blocks most new immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. As a result of the high court’s action, the ban can be implemented for some travelers, along with a long-delayed review of vetting procedures used to screen foreigners trying to enter the United States.
Since the signing of the first executive order Jan. 27, Trump referred to the ban as a temporary anti-terrorism policy required as a measure for the government to improve screening procedures, and review the process in the appropriate amount of time. The temporary anti-terrorism ban would affect the specific countries in question: Syria, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
The court’s action was written with a partial dissent from Justices Neil Gorsuch Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and, who would have allowed the ban to apply to all travelers.
“The government’s interest in enforcing (the ban), and the executive’s authority to do so, are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States,” the court said.
The Justices also ruled that the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
As with the first travel ban signed by Trump on Jan. 27, the chaos and confusion that ensued around the world created much concern and fear among affected travelers. The ban led to the temporary detainment of approximately 746 people at U.S. airports. Many of those detained were deported back to their home countries, amid the chaos—untold numbers were prevented from boarding their flights at overseas airports.
The court’s action on Monday is not expected to create similar chaos. One major issue with the Jan 27 travel ban was that it went into effect immediately, barring ‘all’ travelers from the seven countries from entering the U.S., despite having green cards, valid visas or refugee status.
With the court’s limitations, the revised travel ban should go into effect this week, based on a memorandum recently signed by Trump. Travelers with green cards and visas are allowed to enter the U.S., except for refugees entering the country. Some refugees may get caught in the red tape process; however, the numbers of those stuck should hopefully be significantly lower than the number of people affected by the first ban.
Trump unveiled his revised travel ban order in March, meant to correct the original ban’s language. The revised ban called for a 90-day ban on travelers from six countries and 120 days for refugees, however, it excluded visa and green card holders, deleted a section that gave preference to Christian minorities, and included a waiver process for those claiming undue hardship.
A federal judge in Hawaii had blocked the order hours before it was to go into effect on March 16, and blocked by another federal judge in Maryland. The Justice Department appealed both rulings, leading to similar rulings by federal appeals courts in Richmond May 25 and San Francisco June 12.
Before reaching the Supreme Court, Trump’s travel ban had been struck down on both constitutional and statutory grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled 10-3 that it discriminated against Muslims by targeting only countries with overwhelmingly large Muslim majorities. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled unanimously that the ban violated federal immigration law by targeting people from certain countries without improving national security.
The Supreme Court includes five justices appointed by Republican presidents and four by Democrat presidents. Alito has spent his entire career working for the government. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a 2015 immigration case that a “legitimate and bona fide” reason for denying entry to the United States can pass muster. Chief Justice John Roberts is a strong proponent of executive authority, particularly in foreign affairs. Gorsuch is known for expertise in the written text of statutes — and banning Muslims isn’t mentioned in Trump’s executive order. Thomas is the most conservative of all.