The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban against a broad legal attack, giving him a legal and political victory on a controversy that helped define his presidency.
The vote Tuesday was 5-4 along ideological grounds. The court rejected contentions that Trump had exceeded his authority and violated the Constitution by targeting Muslims.
Trump hailed the ruling as a “tremendous victory” in a statement issued by the White House. “The Supreme Court has upheld the clear authority of the president to defend the national security of the United States,” he said. “In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country.”
The ruling ends a legal saga that dates to the beginning of the Trump presidency and helped establish his assertive, divisive leadership style. The decision bolsters the president’s already broad control over the nation’s borders.
A Hawaii-led group of challengers at the Supreme Court said the policy was the embodiment of Trump’s December 2015 campaign call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said those comments weren’t enough to strike down the policy.
“The issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements,” Roberts wrote. “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.”
The court is nearing the end of its nine-month term. It will issue its final opinions — including a fight over mandatory union fees paid by public-sector workers — Wednesday.
‘Ignoring the Facts’
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
Sotomayor accused the majority of “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.”
The ban in its current form affects seven countries, five of them predominantly Muslim, and indefinitely bars more than 150 million people from entering the country.
The first version of the ban triggered airport chaos and protests when Trump put it in place a week after taking office last year. Judges quickly blocked that version, but subsequent changes made the policy more palatable to the courts.
Roberts said the president has “broad discretion” under the nation’s immigration laws to block foreigners from entering the country. He noted that the current ban was put in place only after national security officials reviewed vetting procedures on a country-by-country basis.
“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,” Roberts wrote.
In a separate opinion, Kennedy, without mentioning Trump, said the court’s ruling didn’t insulate government officials from a duty to respect religious rights.
“It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs,” Kennedy wrote. “An anxious world must know that our government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”
Sotomayor pointed to “stark parallels” with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, a policy allowed by the court in a 1944 ruling known as Korematsu.
“As here, the government invoked an ill-defined national security threat to justify an exclusionary policy of sweeping proportion,” she wrote. “As here, the exclusion order was rooted in dangerous stereotypes about a particular group’s supposed inability to assimilate and desire to harm the United States.”
‘Morally Repugnant Order’
Roberts said Korematsu “has nothing to do” with the travel ban case.
“It is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission,” Roberts wrote.
Breaking new ground, he said the Korematsu decision, which has never been formally overruled, “was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and — to be clear — has no place in law under the Constitution.”
Breyer said the Trump policy’s case-by-case waiver system so far was inadequate to deal with potentially thousands of cases that qualify. He said, “to my knowledge,” the government hasn’t provided any guidance to consular officers about when to grant waivers.
During argument, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the court that more than 400 people had been cleared for waiver, though it wasn’t clear how many people had actually received visas.
The case is Trump v. Hawaii, 17-965.