On June 26, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, by a 5-4 vote, the Trump administration's third travel ban order under Presidential Proclamation 9645, issued September 24, 2017. The ban prevents indefinitely the entry into the United States of certain nationals from specific countries, with some exceptions.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet noted that, among other things, the government:
- Maintained, modified, or eased restrictions on five of six countries designated by Executive Order 13780, issued in March 2017: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
- Lifted restrictions on Sudan.
- Added restrictions and/or additional vetting on three additional countries (Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela) found not to meet baseline requirements, but that were not included in Executive Order 13780. Effective April 13, 2018, Chad was removed from this list.
The Court observed that plaintiffs alleged that the primary purpose of the entry ban was religious animus and that the President's stated concerns about vetting protocols and national security were pretexts for discriminating against Muslims. At the heart of their case was a series of statements by the President and his advisers both during the campaign and since the President assumed office. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, said the issue was not whether to denounce the President's statements, but the significance of those statements in reviewing a presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility. In doing so, he said, the Court must consider not only the statements of a particular president but also the authority of the presidency itself.
Justice Roberts noted that the Proclamation "is expressly premised on legitimate purposes and says nothing about religion. The entry restrictions on Muslim-majority nations are limited to countries that were previously designated by Congress or prior administrations as posing national security risks. Moreover, the Proclamation reflects the results of a worldwide review process undertaken by multiple Cabinet officials and their agencies."
Three additional features of the entry policy supported the government's claim of a legitimate national security interest, Justice Roberts noted. First, since the President introduced entry restrictions in January 2017, three Muslim-majority countries—Iraq, Sudan, and Chad—have been removed from the list. Second, for those countries still subject to entry restrictions, the Proclamation includes numerous exceptions for various categories of foreign nationals. Finally, the Proclamation creates a waiver program open to all covered foreign nationals seeking entry as immigrants or nonimmigrants. "Under these circumstances, the Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review," the majority concluded.
Justices Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg dissented. Justice Sotomayor said, among other things, "Taking all the relevant evidence together, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was driven primarily by anti-Muslim animus rather than by the Government's asserted national-security justifications." Ultimately, she said, what began as a policy explicitly "calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" has morphed into a Proclamation putatively based on national-security concerns. "But this new window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact: the words of the President and his advisers create the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers."
The Supreme Court's opinion is at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-965_h315.pdf. Presidential Proclamation 9645 is at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-enhancing-vetting-capabilities-processes-detecting-attempted-entry-united-states-terrorists-public-safety-threats/. A related fact sheet from the Department of Homeland Security is at https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/09/24/fact-sheet-president-s-proclamation-enhancing-vetting-capabilities-and-processes.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.