A sharply divided Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld US President Donald Trump's latest version of ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries - but not only those countries - rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority. A dissenting justice said the outcome was a historic mistake.
The 5-4 decision Tuesday is a big victory for Trump on an issue that is central to his presidency, and the court's first substantive ruling on a Trump administration policy. The president quickly tweeted his reaction: "Wow!"
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote Tuesday that Trump's most recent version of the travel ban is consistent with both immigration law and the country's First Amendment.
But he was careful not to endorse either Trump's provocative statements about immigration in general or Muslims in particular, including Trump's campaign pledge to keep Muslims from entering the country.
"We express no view on the soundness of the policy," Roberts wrote.
The travel ban has been fully in place since December, when the justices put the brakes on lower court rulings that had ruled the policy out of bounds and blocked part of it from being enforced.
Experts supporting the decision are at pains to explain that this decision is less of a Muslim ban and much more of a 'Muslim terrorism' ban.
With just days to go before America's independence day on 4 July, the Supreme Court decision could not have come at a better time for Trump who's on campaign mode again. Midterm elections are due in November and Republicans are hoping to push back against the anti-incumbency theory and retain their hold on both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Which countries are on the list?
The latest version of the ban - the third so far - includes restrictions against five majority-Muslim nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen plus North Korea and Venezuela. Critics say the policy reflects anti-Muslim bias and North Korea and Venezuela have been added simply to window dress what is anti-Muslim at its core. Three other majority-Muslim nations, including Chad, Iraq and Sudan have been removed. The government cited poor cooperation with U.S. officials, terrorist activity and technical hurdles with each of the countries mentioned in the latest version of the ban.
A timeline of Trump's attempts at a travel ban
December 2015: Then campaigner Trump calls for banning all Muslims from entering the United States.
May 2016: Trump says Muslim ban is merely a 'suggestion'. "We have a serious problem, and it's a temporary ban - it hasn't been called for yet, nobody's done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on," he told Fox.
January 2017: Trump signs an executive order banning entry for 90 days by citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
September 2017: The Trump administration unveils new travel restrictions on people from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
January 2018: Supreme Court agrees to hear oral arguments.
Who are the four judges who dissented?
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said "history will not look kindly on the court's misguided decision today, nor should it." Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also dissented.
Sotomayor wrote that based on the evidence in the case "a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus." She said her colleagues in the majority arrived at the opposite result by "ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens."
She likened the case to the discredited Korematsu V. U.S. decision that upheld the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Roberts responded in his opinion that "Korematsu has nothing to do with this case" and "was gravely wrong the day it was decided."
The travel ban was among the court's biggest cases this term and the latest in a string of 5-4 decisions in which the conservative side of the court, bolstered by the addition of Gorsuch last year, prevailed. Gorsuch was nominated by Trump after Republicans in the Senate refused to grant a hearing to federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Barack Obama with more than 10 months remaining in Obama's term.
Travel ban has been central to Trump presidency
The travel ban has long been central to Trump's presidency. The Trump White House has made it clear, via Stephen Miller and Trump himself, that immigration will continue to be their war cry, only more intense this time. Today's decision will only add bragging rights to the Trump campaign.
He proposed a broad, all-encompassing Muslim ban during the presidential campaign in 2015, drawing swift rebukes from Republicans as well as Democrats. And within a week of taking office, the first travel ban was announced with little notice, sparking chaos at airports and protests across the nation.
While the ban has changed shape since then, it has remained a key part of Trump's "America First" vision, with the president believing that the restriction, taken in tandem with his promised wall at the southern border, would make the Unites States safer from potentially hostile foreigners.
In a statement he released Tuesday morning, Trump hailed the decision as "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."
The current version dates from last September and it followed what the administration has called a thorough review by several federal agencies, although no such review has been shared with courts or the public.
Federal trial judges in Hawaii and Maryland had blocked the travel ban from taking effect, finding that the new version looked too much like its predecessors. Those rulings that were largely upheld by federal appeals courts in Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco.
"Legitimate grounding in national security concerns"
But the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion Tuesday. The policy has "a legitimate grounding in national security concerns," and it has several moderating features, including a waiver program that would allow some people from the affected countries to enter the U.S., Roberts said. The administration has said that 809 people have received waivers since the ban took full effect in December.
Roberts wrote that presidents have frequently used their power to talk to the nation "to espouse the principles of religious freedom and tolerance on which this Nation was founded." But he added that presidents and the country have not always lived up "to those inspiring words."
The challengers to the ban asserted that Trump's statements crossed a constitutional line, Roberts said.
"But the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements. It is instead the significance of those statements in reviewing a Presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility," he said.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 06:57 AM