People protest President Trump's travel ban outside the Supreme Court. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s most recent travel ban today in a 5-4 decision, ruling that it falls within the president’s traditional power to control immigration policy.
The big picture: This is the court’s first major ruling on a Trump policy — and it showed. As is the case with so much of his presidency, the justices’ fiercest disagreements over Trump’s policies were wrapped up with disputes about Trump himself.
Between the lines: The justices’ competing approaches to this case mirrored the broader partisan divides in electoral politics.
- Justice Sonia Sotomayor, arguably the most outspoken member of the court’s liberal wing, said the travel ban “was motivated by anti-Muslim animus,” citing Trump’s public statements about Muslims. That should settle the legal debate, she said.
- Chief Justice John Roberts, a traditional conservative, largely separated the policy from the president, saying it was easily defensible on its own merits.
- Justice Anthony Kennedy, a more moderate conservative, ultimately voted with Roberts, but added a brief statement that seemed to criticize Trump’s rhetoric.
- And all of that added up to a 5-4 decision, along partisan lines, in Trump’s favor.
The issue: Roberts, writing for the majority, said the federal immigration law at issue in this case “exudes deference to the President in every clause.” He detailed the process through which the administration arrived at the most recent version of the policy, and said it was more thorough than past presidents’ uses of the same authority.
- Trump’s public statements about Muslims have to take a backseat to the reasoning laid out in the policy itself, Roberts said.
- “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 wrote. “In doing so, we must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself.”
The other side: Sotomayor read out loud at length from her dissent — a sign of particularly strong disagreement.
- She said the travel ban is still the Muslim ban Trump talked about on the campaign trail, but “now masquerades behind a façade of national-security concerns,” and accused the majority of “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.”
Kennedy seemed to criticize Trump’s rhetoric while agreeing that it should not determine the outcome of this case.
- “There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of Government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention,” he wrote. “That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects.”
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