WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban of mostly Muslim majority countries, in a 5-4 ruling that declared the president was within his authority to impose entry restrictions in the interest of national security.
The court’s conservative majority sided with the Trump administration, stating that the third iteration of the president’s so-called travel ban, issued through an executive order last year, “is squarely within the scope of presidential authority.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, in his written opinion, rejected arguments that the president’s ban was unconstituional because it was biased against Muslims, stating “the text says nothing about religion.”
“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,” Roberts wrote.
Trump as a candidate announced in December 2015 that if elected he would propose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He declared the proposal in response to a deadly mass shooting in San Bernandino, California by a U.S. born supporter of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the four dissenting votes, wrote in her opinion that based on the evidence in the case “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”
Sotomayor said the court’s decision “leaves undisturbed a policy first advertised openly and unequivocally as a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ because the policy now masquerades behind a façade of national-security concerns.”
Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neal Gorsuch all voted to uphold the travel ban. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sotomayor dissented.
Trump celebrated the decision telling reporters at the White House it was a “tremendous victory for the American people and for our Constitution,” and “a moment of profound vindication,” for his administration.
Lawmakers reacted to the court’s decision along party lines, with Republicans lauding the decision while Democrats decried the ruling.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, compared the decision to the court’s most controversial past decisions such as the 1944 ruling that upheld a presidential executive order authorizing the placement of Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.
“Today’s decision undermines the core value of religious tolerance on which America was founded. I am deeply disappointed that this ruling gives legitimacy to discrimination and Islamophobia,” Ellison said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said “the president’s travel ban doesn’t make us safer, and the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t make it right. This is a backward and un-American policy that fails to improve our national security.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he supports both the Supreme Court ruling and the goals of the president’s travel ban.
“As commander in chief, he has the power to do policies like this,” King said in an interview.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, said Trump’s executive order “is not a Muslim ban,” adding that he believed the president’s travel ban was mean “to keep the country safe.”
The president’s travel ban has been fought aggressively in the courts since its launch on January 27, 2017. The order, executed on a weekend with little notice to travelers, airports and Department of Homeland security workers, resulted in widespread chaos at airports across the country as travelers from a list of banned countries arrived to the U.S. only to be turned away.
Trump’s first executive order banned entry to citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, and halted the acceptance of refugees from Syria. It was temporarily blocked a day later by a New York federal judge, and later withdrawn by the administration.
Six weeks later Trump unveiled a second version of the plan that excluded Iraq, but still barred citizens from the remaining countries for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. A federal court judge in Hawaii temporarily blocked the second iteration from moving forward, but it was later allowed to take partial effect until September.
Trump returned in September with a third version that barred travelers for an indefinite period of time from five Muslim majority countries — Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia — while adding North Korea and Venezuela to the list. Chad was previously on the list, but later removed.
The administration argued before the court, that the latest version was within the powers granted to the president by Congress to issue an order “for such period as he shall deem necessary,” to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” if the president found such entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
New York Democrats widely condemned the court’s decision.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a statement said, “the Trump travel ban is a gross violation of our American values, and the Supreme Court’s ruling along partisan lines does nothing to change that.”
“This shameful and bigoted policy is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to govern by hate and division and continue the federal government’s assault on immigrants,” Cuomo said.
— with Tom Brune