Justices uphold travel ban, buoy Trump before midterms

Mark Sherman
Associated Press

Washington — The Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday in favor of President Donald Trump’s travel ban sparked immediate backlash from immigration advocates in Michigan while handing the president a political victory experts expect will embolden him heading into the midterm elections.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority.

“The ruling shows that all of the attacks from the media and the Democrat politicians are wrong, and they turned out to be very wrong, and what we’re looking for as Republicans, I can tell you, is strong borders, no crime,” a defiant Trump said from the White House. “What the Democrats are looking at is open borders, which will bring tremendous crime.”

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Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, lamented the “hardship” the ruling would mean for U.S. citizens and legal residents with family in war-torn nations such as Yemen and Syria or nearby refugee camps.

“The Supreme Court in effect emboldened President Trump’s xenophobic agenda — the same agenda that separates children from their parents and literally puts them in cages right now,” Walid said. “The same philosophy that would keep family members who reside in America, including in Michigan, from being reunited with family members who are refugees in some of these countries. It’s shameful.”

The 5-4 decision is the court’s first substantive ruling on a Trump administration policy, with Chief Justice John Roberts penning the majority opinion, joined by his four conservative colleagues. Roberts wrote that presidents have vast power to regulate immigration.

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

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

The decision arrived just as Trump was facing a political firestorm over the wrenching images of migrant children separated from their parents at the border. Bipartisan blowback to the family separations had caused the president to abruptly reverse course last week on the issue, and it raised questions about whether the hawkish immigration views that helped propel Trump into office could sustain Republicans this fall.

“Of course, it will embolden him. He basically read the Supreme Court decision as supporting his policy decision, rather than its supporting his capacity to make that decision as the president,” said Ann Lin, who teaches at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy and writes about immigration policy, on Tuesday.

The ruling brings an end to a separate lawsuit filed in Michigan by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Arab American Civil Rights League and others challenging the travel policy as an unconstitutional ban on Muslims entering the United States. That suit had been stayed pending the outcome of the case before the Supreme Court.

Nabih Ayad of Detroit, founder of the Arab American Civil Rights League and lead attorney in the Michigan suit, said the High Court’s “disappointing” ruling would be viewed around the world as a blow to democratic principles and inclusiveness.

“What this does really is takes away from the many prior administration’s hard efforts to let the entire Arab and Muslim world know that we’re not against you, and we’re working with you together to fight hate and terrorism,” Ayad said.

“What this basically does is further isolate the United States and paint a severely negative picture of those countries of Arab and Muslim backgrounds.”

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, called the High Court’s ruling a “great failure” but said it doesn’t mean the travel ban will remain in effect indefinitely, as Congress could act to rescind the policy.

“This court that has been exquisitely sensitive to religious freedom and the requirement of religious neutrality in other contexts, fell down on the job today,” Jadwat said. “Thousands of Muslims in the United States and abroad have been harmed. Thousands more will continue to be harmed for as long as this ban continues in effect. Even more people here and abroad have seen that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights just did not work.”

The travel ban has been fully in place since December, when the justices put the brakes on lower court rulings that had ruled the policy out of bounds and blocked part of it from being enforced.

In a dissent she summarized in court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “History will not look kindly on the court’s misguided decision today, nor should it.”

She said that, while the policy “masquerades behind a façade of national-security concerns,” the “repackaging does little to cleanse Presidential Proclamation No. 9645 of the appearance of discrimination that the President’s words have created.

“Based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus,” Sotomayor wrote.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also dissented.

The policy applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim 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.

The administration had pointed to the Chad decision to show that the restrictions are premised only on national security concerns.

The challengers, though, argued that the court could not just ignore all that has happened, beginning with Trump’s campaign tweets to prevent the entry of Muslims into the United States.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, whose district includes one of the country’s largest concentrations of Muslims, said the High Court made the “wrong decision” in its interpretation of the Constitution.

“The discriminatory Muslim ban keeps people away from their loved ones and says ‘Do Not Enter’ to refugees fleeing war and violence,” said Dingell, who attended a protest outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, was surprised by the decision, in part because “targeting people specifically based solely on our faith is the opposite of what our country is about,” she said.

“As a Muslim American, I don’t want to wait 10, 20 even 30 years for an apology or to get this reversed. We need to do it now,” said Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat running for Congress, where she’d be the first female Muslim to serve if elected.

But U.S. Senate hopeful John James, a Republican from Farmington Hills, said the court made the right decision.

“We must have adequate systems in place to secure our borders and to keep America safe,” James said in a statement.

The travel ban has long been central to Trump’s presidency. He proposed a broad, all-encompassing Muslim ban during the presidential campaign in 2015, drawing swift rebukes from Republicans as well as Democrats. And within a week of taking office, the first travel ban was announced with little notice, sparking chaos at airports and protests across the nation.

While the ban has changed shape since then, it has remained a key part of Trump’s “America First” vision, with the president believing that the restriction, taken in tandem with his promised wall at the southern border, would make the Unites States safer from potentially hostile foreigners.

Critics said the changes didn’t erase the ban’s legal problems, and lower courts largely agreed.

The current version dates from last September and it followed what the administration has called a thorough review by several federal agencies, although no such review has been shared with courts or the public.

Federal trial judges in Hawaii and Maryland had blocked the travel ban from taking effect, finding that the new version looked too much like its predecessors. Those rulings that were largely upheld by federal appeals courts in Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco.

But the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion Tuesday. The policy has “a legitimate grounding in national security concerns,” and it has several moderating features, including a waiver program that would allow some people from the affected countries to enter the U.S., Roberts said.

The administration has said that 809 people have received waivers since the ban took full effect in December.

Roberts said the challengers to the ban asserted that Trump’s statements crossed a constitutional line.

“But the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements. It is instead the significance of those statements in reviewing a Presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility,” he said.

UM’s Lin said the “ray of hope” for immigration advocates is that Tuesday’s decision at its core is about an injunction — whether the courts could stop Trump from executing the travel ban. The next legal challenge could be over the ban’s implementation.

“The place where advocates have to push back is to say this ban is unconstitutional not on its face but in the way it’s being carried out,” she said.

Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin of the Associated Press contributed.