Top US court backs Trump travel ban on Muslim-majority countries

Advocacy groups ‘appalled’ by ruling blocking people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering US.

US travel ban
The ban has been widely criticised by human rights and refugee advocacy groups [Steve Helber/The Associated Press]

The United States Supreme Court has upheld President Donald Trump‘s controversial order blocking entry by people from several Muslim-majority countries, a decision described as “disappointing” and “worrying” by advocacy groups.

In a 5-4 decision on Tuesday, the high court found that Trump’s action was “squarely within the scope of presidential authority” under US immigration law and rejected a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority.

The current ban, announced in September and widely criticised by human rights and refugee advocacy groups, prohibits entry into the US by most people from Iran , Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen

It also affects two non-Muslim majority countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

A sixth majority Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list in April after improving “its identity-management and information sharing practices,” Trump said in a proclamation.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by his four conservative colleagues.

He rejected the challengers’ claim of anti-Muslim bias, but was careful not to endorse either Trump’s provocative statements about immigration in general and Muslims in particular.

“We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts wrote.

Following the Supreme Court’s announcement, Trump hailed the decision as “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”.

Motivated by ‘anti-Muslim animus’

Lower courts had previously blocked the travel ban, the third version of a policy Trump first pursued a week after taking office in January 2017. But on December 4, the high court allowed it to go fully into effect while the legal challenge continued.

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”. 

Growing concern in US about political tribalism in Trump era

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”.

Sotomayor likened the case to the discredited Korematsu V. US decision that upheld the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The challengers, led by the state of Hawaii, argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity towards Muslims.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the challengers had failed to show that the ban violates either US immigration law or the Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on the government favouring one religion over another.

The White House maintains the ban targets individuals from countries that have failed to provide enough information to allow for proper vetting of prospective travellers. Trump also says it is needed on matters of national security.

When the first version of the ban was announced shortly after Trump took office, protests erupted nationwide, with many taking to airports and the streets to denounce the move as “unconstitutional”.

Human rights activists said the court’s decision represented “a dreadful day for our country”.

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American- Islamic Relations described the court’s decision as “disappointing”.

“The Supreme Court decision today has given the Trump administration a free hand to reinject discrimination against a particular faith back to our immigration system which was rejected more than 50 years ago.

“The Supreme Court’s decision ignored the fact that this president and candidate has targeted a particular faith community which is Muslims, here and abroad.”

Debra Hauser, President of Advocates for Youth, said in a statement that the association was appalled with the court’s decision to uphold the ban.

“This Administration continues to invoke policies that propagate hate, embolden bigots, and incite violence. We should be ashamed of where this Administration has led us – and we’re ashamed that our highest court has accepted the Administration’s harmful rhetoric and actions to persecute some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We are a nation of immigrants – and no twisted legal justification can change that,” Hauser said.

“While Trump continues to manufacture policies that profile individuals and attack immigrants, young people will instead center our communities and be the moral compass and humanity this country so desperately needs, when it feels like our institutions are blatantly not. 

Muslim advocates said they a also concerned that the administration will target other countries as well as American citizens and lawful, permanent US residents of a Muslim background.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress said the decision “will someday serve as a marker of shame”, comparing the ban and ruling to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

 Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey reporting from New York said that the court’s ruling is a “major victory” for Trump.

She said that the Trump administration added some countries that were not Muslim majority to the list arguing that this was for national security and not based on religion

“With those changes the Supreme Court is basically saying that this is within the president’s authority to do this.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies