The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions, popularly known as the “travel ban,” are likely legal.
The 5-4 decision broke on ideological lines with Kennedy joining the conservative bloc of Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch. Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg dissented. Roberts, writing for the majority said, “The President has lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him… to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States.”
As stated above, the rules are judged here by the court as only likely legal. The ruling in Trump v. Hawaii does not lay to rest the challenge of the law. That battle hasn’t been fought. This case only addresses the nationwide injunction granted by several district courts in the U.S. against the administration’s enforcement of its own immigration rules. Consolidated into Trump v. Hawaii, the Supreme Court simply ruled that the legal standard required for a stay or injunction was not met. It called the preliminary injunction an “abuse of discretion” by the district court.
The District Court in Hawaii and several others had found that the parties opposed to the travel restrictions were “likely to succeed” in challenging them. That, in a nutshell, is the legal standard involved in granting the injunction in the first place, and where the Supreme Court has held those lower courts were in error, at least.
Justice Thomas spent ten pages of his own concurring opinion to rail against district courts imposing such bans, in a manner that likely exceeds their legal authority:
District courts, including the one here, have begun imposing universal injunctions without considering their authority to grant such sweeping relief. These injunctions are beginning to take a toll on the federal court system— preventing legal questions from percolating through the federal courts, encouraging forum shopping, and making every case a national emergency for the courts and for the Executive Branch.
He went on to suggest the Supreme Court itself needed to address the issue with the judges of the lower courts:
I am skeptical that district courts have the authority to enter universal injunctions. These injunctions did not emerge until a century and a half after the founding. And they appear to be inconsistent with longstanding limits on equitable relief and the power of Article III courts. If their popularity continues, this Court must address their legality.
Justice Sotomayor, who wrote for herself and Justice Ginsburg in dissent, notably charged the majority with using the same reasoning as in the Korematsu case – the infamous ruling that allowed the Japanese internment during World War Two. She said, “[t]oday’s holding is all the more troubling given the stark parallels between the reasoning of this case and that of Korematsu v. the United States.” The majority wasn’t having it, however, and addressed the dissent directly on that point, announcing “it is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission.”
While the ultimate issue of Proclamation No. 9645’s legality was not decided here, that the court found it likely to be upheld does indicate that they would vote 5-4 to uphold the order itself. For now, the restrictions will remain in place unless and until the Supreme Court rules again on the issue, should that be necessary.