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Supreme Court allows full enforcement of Trump travel ban while legal challenges continue

The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 allowed President Trump’s third travel ban to be fully enforced as legal challenges in lower courts continue. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Supreme Court on Monday granted President Trump’s request to fully enforce his revised order banning travel to the United States by residents of six mostly Muslim countries while legal challenges to it proceed in lower courts.

It was a victory for the White House, which has seen the courts trim back various iterations of the travel ban, and it bodes well for the administration if the Supreme Court is called upon to finally decide the merits of the president’s actions.

Two lower courts had imposed restrictions on Trump’s new order, exempting travelers from the six countries who had “bona fide” connections with relatives — such as grandparents, aunts or uncles — or institutions in the United States. Those exemptions to the president’s order, issued in the fall, were along the lines of those imposed by the Supreme Court last summer on a previous version of the travel ban.

But in an unsigned opinion Monday that did not disclose the court’s reasoning, the justices lifted the injunctions, which had been issued by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor noted that they would not have lifted the restrictions. The new ban also bars travelers from North Korea and Venezuela, but they were not affected by the injunctions.

The justices said they expected the federal judges reviewing challenges to the order — based on what challengers say are Trump’s animus toward Muslims and lack of authority under immigration laws — to handle the cases with “appropriate dispatch.”

The court’s move is “a substantial victory for the safety and security of the American people,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written statement. “We are pleased to have defended this order and heartened that a clear majority Supreme Court has allowed the President’s lawful proclamation protecting our country’s national security to go into full effect. The Constitution gives the President the responsibility and power to protect this country from all threats foreign and domestic, and this order remains vital to accomplishing those goals.”

The justices acted just after the American Civil Liberties Union, which is leading one of the lawsuits, sent a letter to the court Monday morning pointing out that Trump last week tweeted links to anti-Muslim videos.

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, reacted to the court’s order with disappointment.

“President Trump’s anti-Muslim prejudice is no secret — he has repeatedly confirmed it, including just last week on Twitter,” Jadwat said. “It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims. We continue to stand for freedom, equality, and for those who are unfairly being separated from their loved ones.”

Trump retweets inflammatory and unverified anti-Muslim videos

The latest iteration of the travel ban, the third Trump has issued, bars various people from eight countries: Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. Six of the countries have Muslim-majority populations.

But federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii blocked its implementation for "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States." They said such people include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.

The language was drawn from a Supreme Court decision in June that exempted such foreign nationals from Trump’s second version of the executive order, which expired this fall.

The orders from the two district judges will be reviewed this week. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is set to consider the Hawaii case Wednesday, and the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond will consider the Maryland judge’s decision Friday.

Lawyers for Hawaii had told the Supreme Court that there was no reason to back away from the “equitable determination, dutifully adhered to by the court below,” that it had already made. If anything, Hawaii’s lawyers said, the government’s case deserves even greater scrutiny than before, as compared with the earlier temporary travel bans.

The president now "has imposed an indefinite one, deepening and prolonging the harms a stay would inflict," said the brief submitted on Hawaii's behalf by Washington lawyer Neal K. Katyal.

But Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, representing the Trump administration, argued that there was no reason for the injunctions.

The new executive order, he wrote, followed a “comprehensive, worldwide review of the information shared by foreign governments that is used to screen aliens seeking entry to the United States. Based on that review, the Proclamation adopts tailored entry restrictions to address extensive findings that a handful of particular foreign governments have deficient information-sharing and identity-management practices, or other risk factors.”

The cases are Trump v. Hawaii and Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project.