The Supreme Court's travel ban decision, explained

The Supreme Court today upheld the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven countries, voting 5-4 that the ban fell within the president’s authority and was not discriminatory, even though five of the nations are majority Muslim.

There were a number of legal challenges to the travel ban, but the State of Hawaii’s challenge heavily influenced the travel ban’s route to the nation’s highest court. Back in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Trump’s travel ban “exceeded the scope of his delegated authority.” The Trump administration petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge that decision and the Trump v. Hawaii case began hearing arguments before the high court in April 2018.

In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that “the proclamation is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices.”

In that opinion, Roberts also addressed criticism that the ban unfairly targeted Muslims.

“The text says nothing about religion,” Roberts wrote. “Plaintiffs and the dissent nonetheless emphasize that five of the seven nations currently included in the proclamation have Muslim-majority populations. Yet that fact alone does not support an inference of religious hostility, given that the policy covers just 8% of the world’s Muslim population and is limited to countries that were previously designated by Congress or prior administrations as posing national security risks.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent to the ruling, saying the Court’s decision “fails to safeguard” the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment.

Here’s the Supreme Court’s full Trump v. Hawaii decision.

What does this ruling uphold?

Since the first executive order in January 2017, the Trump administration’s travel ban has been challenged three times in lower courts on both constitutional grounds and claims of religious discrimination.

The first version of the ban issued by executive order in January 2017 was a total ban on all travelers for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Green-card holders were initially told they would need waivers to be admitted but were later exempted from the ban. That ban was immediately blocked by a federal appeals court and met with lawsuits.

The second version of the ban issued in March 2017 removed Iraq from the list and reduced the number of refugees admitted through a federal resettlement program. That version was blocked by a district court in Hawaii just before it was about to go into effect. A federal judge in Hawaii later extended that ruling. In June 2017, the Supreme Court allowed parts of the ban to go into effect with some exceptions until it expired in September.

A third, more narrow version of the ban was issued in September 2017 and added three more countries, bringing the restricted list to eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. The ban applied to foreign nationals who “lack a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii blocked the order, but ultimately in December 2017, the Supreme Court ruled the ban could be fully enforced despite pending lawsuits and challenges in lower courts. Chad was later removed from the list in April 2018. The Supreme Court’s decision now upholds the travel ban for the remaining seven countries.

How did the Trump administration react to the decision?

President Trump tweeted his approval shortly after the announcement : “SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS TRUMP TRAVEL BAN. Wow!”

The White House released an official statement on the ruling, stating it was “a tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution” and “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.”

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What have been other reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision?

Conservatives were generally supportive of the travel ban and celebrated the decision.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted he was pleased to see the Supreme Court uphold Trump's travel ban "from countries with high incidences of terrorist activity, poor governance, and ineffective vetting.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, shared on Twitter that “Congress clearly gave Pres authority to limit entry of foreign nationals if in America’s interest."

One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., voiced his opposition to the ruling, stating, “While we should demand a strong vetting process and orderly, lawful entry, we must not summarily reject an entire region of the world, and we should never use any religious test. I urge the Administration to discontinue this misguided policy and instead take action to continue our tradition of welcoming those who are persecuted.”

Civil rights groups have responded with statements protesting the decision.

“This decision puts the basic rights of all Americans at risk. It says that even when an administration is clearly anti-Muslim, when it targets Muslims, when it insults Muslims, and when it puts a policy in place that specifically hurts Muslims – that the Court will let it stand. If it can happen to Muslims, it can happen to anyone.”

— Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates

“This ruling will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s great failures. 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 action.”

— Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

“Today the arc of justice just got longer. The Supreme Court ruling marks this as another painful day in our country’s history. The Court’s decision ignores and empowers this administration’s bigotry and serves as a tacit approval of religious and ethnic discrimination that runs counter to the inclusionary principles that our country aspires to. President Trump’s Muslim ban has already caused immeasurable suffering to families and communities and is part of the administration’s overall strategy of attacking and separating immigrant and refugee families.”

— Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center

Businesses that rely heavily on immigrant workers have also been vocal throughout the legal debate over the travel ban, as many anticipate the ban could affect employees and their family members from entering the United States. The technology industry was particularly active in opposing the travel ban and filed a legal brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year. Among the major companies signing on to that brief were Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter.

Not all those companies have issued public responses yet to the latest Supreme Court decision, but some executives made statements on Twitter.

“We are profoundly disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban — a policy that goes against our mission and values. To restrict travel based on a person’s nationality or religion is wrong. We believe that travel is a transformative and powerful experience, and we will continue to open doors and build bridges between cultures around the world.”

— Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founders of Airbnb

“While disappointed with today's SCOTUS travel ban decision, we will continue to support the legal rights of our employees and their families.”

— Brad Smith, president of Microsoft


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