US Supreme Court upholds Trump's controversial travel ban

The court’s chief justice said the government had “set forth a sufficient national security justification” for the ban.
Wednesday 27/06/2018
In front of the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2018. (AFP)
In front of the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2018. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - On June 26 the US Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration ban by a vote of 5 to 4, rejecting the claim that it represented religious discrimination despite the fact that it targeted immigrants from primarily Muslim-majority countries. Several lower courts had blocked the ban.

Writing on behalf of the majority, the court’s chief justice, John Roberts, said the government had “set forth a sufficient national security justification” for the ban. The Trump administration had argued that the target countries were included in the ban because they were terrorist havens, not because they were majority Muslim.

But Trump was on the defensive from the very beginning of the controversy because during the 2016 presidential campaign he had called specifically for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The lower courts had referenced these comments in determining that the ban violated the US constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

The first version of the ban was announced during the first weeks of the Trump presidency and provoked an outcry from human rights and civil liberties groups, as well as spontaneous demonstrations at several major US international airports. The current version, introduced by the Trump administration in September 2017 in response to the lower court rulings, prohibits entry into the United States of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, but added North Korea and Venezuela to the list to dilute its Muslim focus. Iraq, Sudan and Chad were on the original list but were dropped from the revised version. The original ban applied also to refugees, which the current ban does not, and people from the target nations who hold either government-issued green cards or student visas are exempt from the ban.

These changes between the first and second versions of the ban were probably sufficient to persuade the Supreme Court – which in any event has a one-vote conservative majority – that the administration’s argument was indeed based on national security concerns and not on religion. Nevertheless, in terms of numbers the vast majority of those affected by the ban – 150 million people in all -- are Muslims.

Criticism of the court’s ruling came swiftly. The Arab American Institute issued a statement within minutes of the ruling saying that it reflected “a policy enacted to codify the religious animus of the Trump administration,” adding that “the majority [on the court] has given a blank check to President Trump and future presidents to discriminate simply by claiming national security justifications. “

The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) declared that “as long as the ban, which is indefinite, remains in place, Arabs and Muslims in the US and across the world will continue to be marginalised, harmed and discriminated against.”

Criticism of the ruling did not emanate only from Arab or Muslim-American organisations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a large mainstream Jewish group that focuses on fighting anti-Semitism, issued a statement saying: “we are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling upholding the travel ban… the Court has allowed fear and xenophobia to dim our beacon of light.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling essentially ends the Muslim ban saga, as there is no higher court.