The Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a challenge to the Trump administration’s travel ban, the first major high court test of one of President Donald Trump’s signature campaign issues and a key piece of his tough-on-immigration efforts.
The showdown is shaping up to be among the highest-profile cases of the court’s current term, with a line forming along First Street NE on Sunday for seats in the courtroom.
The justices are poised to discuss whether Trump exceeded his presidential authority to impose a ban that heavily falls on majority-Muslim countries — and whether his campaign statements and tweets show it was done with a religious bias.
Yes, not even the Supreme Court can escape hearing about Trump’s feed on Twitter.
The travel ban was one of Trump’s first major policy moves when he took office in January 2017, and has been tied up in legal challenges since. The justices will make a decision before the term ends in June.
From the Archives: Sessions Responds to Questions on Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Statements
The government argued in a brief that Trump has the authority from the Constitution and Congress to restrict entry to the United States when it is in the nation’s interest. Justice Department lawyers maintain that Trump’s statements on Twitter and as a candidate — when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” — don’t color the third and latest version of the heavily litigated travel ban.
The administration replaced an earlier version on Sept. 24 with a presidential proclamation that is based on a review of compliance with U.S. vetting standards. The policy indefinitely restricted U.S. entry by citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela. Chad was removed from the list on April 10.
In addition to Trump’s repeated calls to build a wall along the nation’s southern border, his administration has cracked down on illegal immigration and tried to put limits on legal entry into the U.S.
The number of Muslim refugees admitted to the United States fell more than 90 percent between Trump’s inauguration and last November, according to a report released last week by the civil rights group Muslim Advocates. Additionally, fewer tourism and student visas are being issued to travelers from Muslim-majority nations, the report said.
David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union that has challenged all three versions of the ban, wrote Monday in The New York Review of Books that the case also tests the Supreme Court’s ability to check a president’s power.
“The case most directly implicates the rights of Muslims, here and abroad, singled out for disfavored treatment by a president who promised to do just that as a candidate,” Cole wrote. “But because the administration has argued that the court must blindly defer to the president, the dispute equally concerns the very role of the court in the separation of powers.”
The state of Hawaii, which brought the challenge now before the justices, argues in its brief that the president doesn’t have “unbridled power,” and the travel ban has trampled on the rights of states and “denigrated persons of the Muslim faith.”
The justices heard from a slate of groups backing Hawaii in briefs, including former military officers who call the ban “counterproductive and dangerous,” the nation’s Catholic bishops who say it “poses a substantial threat to religious liberty,” and members of Congress who say the proclamation was “jerry-rigged to target Muslims.”
“The Proclamation reflects President Trump’s view that ‘there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population’ and that ‘Islam hates us,’” more than 140 lawmakers, including 31 Democratic or independent senators, wrote in a brief.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the ban exceeded Trump’s presidential authority. The 4th Circuit ruled that the ban is unconstitutional in how it treats Muslims. Both issues are central to the case.
Still, the Trump administration would seem to have the upper hand in court.
The justices set aside lower court injunctions in December and allowed the Trump administration to fully enforce the latest travel ban until the legal challenges have been settled.
Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said publicly that they would have denied the government’s request to set aside the injunctions during the court fight.
The case is Trump v. Hawaii, Docket No. 17-965.