Court Battles

Supreme Court upholds travel ban, handing Trump major victory

The Supreme Court handed President Trump a major victory on Tuesday, upholding his ban preventing nationals from five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court’s conservative wing said Trump has broad discretion under immigration law to suspend the entry of people into the United States.

“The president lawfully exercised that discretion based on his findings — following a worldwide, multi-agency review — that entry of the covered aliens would be detrimental to the national interest,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion.


The state of Hawaii and others challenging the ban argued that anti-Muslim comments Trump made on the campaign trail and in office showed that the now-indefinite policy was rooted in an animus toward Muslim people and unconstitutionally disfavored a specific religion.

Roberts and the majority disagreed, arguing the government’s stated objective for the ban — to protect the country and improve vetting processes — was plausible.  

“Because there is persuasive evidence that the entry suspension has a legitimate grounding in national security concerns, quite apart from any religious hostility, we must accept that independent justification,” he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent, which was joined by fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She said a reasonable observer would conclude, based on the evidence, that the proclamation was motivated by prejudice toward Muslims.

“Ultimately, what began as a policy explicitly ‘calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ has since morphed into a ‘Proclamation’ putatively based on national-security concerns,” she said. 

“But this new window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact: the words of the President and his advisers create the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers.”

She admonished her colleagues for blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to set aside Trump’s problematic comments, which she described in detail.

“The First Amendment stands as a bulwark against official religious prejudice and embodies our nation’s deep commitment to religious plurality and tolerance,” she said.

“That constitutional promise is why, for centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Instead of vindicating those principles, today’s decision tosses them aside.”

In a separate dissent, which Justice Elena Kagan joined, Justice Stephen Breyer argued the case should be sent back to the lower court to determine if the administration is providing the waivers and exemptions it mapped out in the proclamation.

“How could the government successfully claim that the proclamation rests on security needs if it is excluding Muslims who satisfy the proclamation’s own terms?” he asked.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with the majority and might again have been the swing vote, also offered interesting comments in a two-page concurring opinion.

He joined the court’s majority in full, but seemingly warned Trump against making public statements that disfavor any one religion in the future, without explicitly naming the president.

“There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention,” he wrote. “That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects.”

In a statement from the White House, Trump hailed the ruling not only as a “tremendous victory” for the American people and the Constitution, but as a more personal win.

“This ruling is also a moment of profound vindication following months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country,” he said. 

“As long as I am President, I will defend the sovereignty, safety, and security of the American People, and fight for an immigration system that serves the national interests of the United States and its citizens. Our country will always be safe, secure and protected on my watch.”

The ruling, which divided the court along party lines, comes amid public uproar over the Trump administration’s treatment of families caught illegally crossing the southern border.

The travel ban and the administration’s now-former practice of separating families have all been part of the administration’s efforts to restrict the number of immigrants coming into the U.S.

Neal Katyal, who argued the case on behalf of the state of Hawaii, which led the challenge to the ban, said the president would be mistaken to interpret Tuesday’s decision “as a greenlight to continue his unwise and un-American policies.”

“As the Supreme Court has repeatedly said, not everything that is constitutional is good policy,” he said. 

“The travel ban is atrocious policy, and makes us less safe and undermines our American ideals. Now that the Court has upheld it, it is up to Congress to do its job and reverse President Trump’s unilateral and unwise travel ban.”

Trump issued the first travel ban — which detractors coined a Muslim ban — just seven days into his term.

It led to massive protests at airports across the country and mass confusion over who could be let into the United States.

A series of court battles followed, and the administration was twice forced to revise its original proposal.

The latest policy, issued by presidential proclamation, limited travel into the United States by people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Chad was also originally included, but the White House decided to drop it from the list in April.

The proclamation also banned immigrants from North Korea and individuals affiliated with certain government agencies in Venezuela, but those restrictions were not blocked by the courts.

The ban was drafted after the first order Trump issued was blocked by lower courts and his second ban expired before reaching the Supreme Court last term. That order banned people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan from coming to the United States for 90 days and banned all refugees for 120 days.

The Supreme Court gave Trump a partial win in January when it allowed the full ban to go into effect after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the president could only ban people if they lack a bona fide relationship to a person or entity in the United States.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, tweeted that he was saddened by the decision.

“Today’s decision undermines the core value of religious tolerance on which America was founded,” he said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed that this ruling gives legitimacy to discrimination and Islamophobia.”

Civil rights advocates, meanwhile, excoriated the court.

“This ruling will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s great failures,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

“It repeats the mistakes of the Korematsu decision upholding Japanese-American imprisonment and swallows wholesale government lawyers’ flimsy national security excuse for the ban instead of taking seriously the president’s own explanation for his actions,” he said.

Sotomayor cited in her dissent the Korematsu v. United States decision, which led the court to expressly denounce the 1944 ruling as unlawful.

“The forcible relocation of U.S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority,” Roberts said.

“But it is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission.”

Updated at 5:34 p.m. 

Tags Donald Trump Keith Ellison Supreme Court Travel ban trump travel ban

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