In split decision, the Supreme Court’s conservatives uphold Trump’s Muslim travel ban


Last year, we often discussed the Trump administration’s “travel ban” on various Muslim-majority countries and the court decisions that blocked it from taking effect. After several revisions and a rocky time in courts, President Trump’s travel ban has finally succeeded in a split 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. The list of countries on the current version of the travel ban are: Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea, and Venezuela.

More than a year and a half has passed since the president first attempted to use his executive power to impose a travel ban on certain countries, one of his first actions in office. Several state and federal courts ruled that the ban, in all its many versions, was unconstitutional in that it deliberately targeted and discriminated against Muslims. Opponents of the ban often used Mr. Trump and his associates’ own words during the campaign and in office against him, since they were often overtly anti-Muslim, and courts routinely agreed.

In this week’s SCOTUS decision, however, Chief Justice John Roberts issued the opinion that the travel ban was “within the scope of presidential authority” because it was restricted to nations that pose a security threat to the U.S. Ignoring much of the evidence of religious animus in the rhetoric leading up to the travel ban, presented by opponents throughout this ordeal, the high court found that the president’s order was “facially neutral” – in other words, technically written with no overt prejudice in its wording – and thus absent of religious discrimination. For the president’s part, he has insisted that this was not a Muslim ban, citing national security and terrorism concerns.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the four traditionally more liberal judges who dissented, stated that it was evident throughout Mr. Trump’s election campaign that his aim was to ban Muslims from entering the country, and while some details of the order changed, his goal never did. The Immigration and Nationality Act states that individuals cannot be “discriminated against…because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” It was clear to lower courts and the four dissenting SCOTUS justices that the rhetoric leading up to the creation of the travel ban was wholly relevant.

It is easy to conclude using the president’s own campaign rhetoric and even Tweets that he planned all along to ban Muslims in particular. It was further evident when previous versions of the order included language prioritizing religious minorities, namely Christians, in Muslim-majority countries. The president was able to use time, trial and error, and his legal aides to get the wording just right in order to persuade the court’s most conservative justices to approve the ban, and the spirit of our country has frankly dimmed a bit with this decision.

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