The U.S. Supreme Court handed Donald Trump one of the biggest victories of his presidency on Tuesday, upholding his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.
The 5-4 ruling, with the court’s five conservatives in the majority and Chief Justice John Roberts writing the decision, ends for now a fierce fight in the courts over whether the policy represented an unlawful Muslim ban.
Trump can now claim vindication after lower courts had blocked his travel ban announced in September, as well as two prior versions, in legal challenges brought by the state of Hawaii and others.
The president quickly reacted on Twitter: “SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS TRUMP TRAVEL BAN. Wow!”
The White House followed up with a statement from Trump touting the decision as a “tremendous victory for the American people and the Constitution.”
“This ruling is also 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,” the statement added.
Writing for the court, Roberts said that the government “has set forth a sufficient national security justification” to prevail.
“We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts added.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent that based on the evidence in the case, “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”
She said her colleagues arrived at the opposite result by “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.”
Campaign trail comments
Critics of the ban cited Trump’s inflammatory comments during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump as a candidate called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of a deadly attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
His lawyers said that only Trump’s actions since he became president in January 2017 should be relevant to the case. During the April 25 arguments before the justices, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said it was “crystal clear” that the travel restrictions were not a manifestation of Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.
Critics also pointed to a government report that concluded citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the U.S. and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his first travel ban had carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011.
Just days into his presidency, an executive order affecting travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen caused scenes of disruption at several airports across the U.S.
After that order was struck down by the courts, the administration decided to write a second directive, which included all of the original countries except Iraq, rather than appeal the initial ban to the Supreme Court.
In a a subsequent order in September, the administration added Chad, North Korea and Venezuela to the list of restricted countries while dropping Sudan. Chad was then removed two months ago.
The high court in June and December 2017 allowed two versions of the ban to take effect while court challenges ran their course but had not resolved the legal merits of the challenges until now.
Rights groups condemned Tuesday’s decision.
“The ruling will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s great failures,” said Omar Jadwat, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the ban.
The court’s decision “swallows wholesale government lawyers’ flimsy national security excuse for the ban instead of taking seriously the president’s own explanation for his actions,” Jadwat added.
“Not since key decisions on slavery, segregation in schools, and Japanese American incarceration have we seen a decision that so clearly fails to protect those most vulnerable to government-led discrimination,” added Farhana Khera, executive director of the group Muslim Advocates.
Chris Coons, a Democrat senator from Delaware who sits on the foreign relations committee, expressed his disappointment with the ruling and said he plans to introduce legislation soon to make clear that the U.S. does “not tolerate discrimination based on religion or nationality.”
The ruling comes as the administration has shifted the U.S. approach concerning immigrants and refugees from that of previous administrations.
Trump also has moved to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the United States illegally as children, acted against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, ended protected status for certain immigrants in the country for decades, intensified deportation efforts and pursued limits on legal immigration.
Trump last week retreated on his administration’s practice of separating the children of immigrants from their parents when families were detained illegally entering the United States.