The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the latest iteration of President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions.
The five-justice majority ruling said Mr Trump’s decision to curb inflow of migrants, especially from Muslim-majority countries, was within his discretionary powers as a president.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the nine-person Supreme Court. He was supported by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, all of whom lean conservative.
“The president has lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under [federal law],” Mr Roberts wrote.
The ban will affect, in varying degrees, citizens of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, all liberal judges, dissented in the ruling.
Mr Trump quickly welcomed the decision moments after it was handed down, saying the ruling vindicates his immigration and national security priorities.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the clear authority of the president to defend the national security of the United States,” Mr Trump said in a statement published by the White House online. “In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country.”
“This ruling is also 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.
“As long as I am president, I will defend the sovereignty, safety, and security of the American people, and fight for an immigration system that serves the national interests of the United States and its citizens,” he added.
The ruling comes as controversies around the detention of children separately from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border engulf the American politics, drawing partisan attacks and even threats of physical assaults.
Mr Trump relaxed the controversial order last week, but insisted some parents will still be prosecuted and also weighing a plan that will send people back at the border before then enter into the U.S. territory.
State governors elected on the platform of the opposition Democratic Party and civil rights groups challenged Mr Trump shortly after he ordered a blanket ban of mostly Middle East countries in September 2017, a controversial move that sparked world-wide outrage.
The opponents made two crucial arguments at the time. First, they said Mr Trump lacked the constitutional powers under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to issue such order.
They argued that the law only allows the president to temporary ban some criminal gangs from entering the U.S., but not the larger population of a country. They further argued that the law also provides that the president may not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or nationality when issuing visas.
Their second argument was that the order was issued to castigate and discriminate against Muslims, in violation of the American Constitution’s First Amendment which prohibits religious favouritism in government policy.
But the Supreme Court rejected these arguments Tuesday, with Mr Roberts explaining that the INA “exudes deference to the president in every clause,” meaning that courts should not second-guess Mr Trump’s national security position.
The Supreme Court said Mr Trump only needed to formally determine that the entry of a certain class of aliens is detrimental to U.S. interests, a requirement the majority said the president easily satisfied in his order.
“The 12-page proclamation — which thoroughly describes the process, agency evaluations, and recommendations underlying the president’s chosen restrictions — is more detailed than any prior order a president has issued under [the INA],” Mr Roberts said.
The Supreme Court said its review should be limited given the national security sensitivities the case involves, thereby rejecting the constitutional arguments on favouritism made by the plaintiffs.
The court said only about eight percent of the world’s Muslim population is affected by Mr Trump’s policy, a key element it said was significant shortcomings of the plaintiffs’ animus argument.
The policy also has a waiver program open to all affected potential migrants, the court said.
Furthermore, certain nationals — like exchange students — from sanctioned countries are exempt from the entry ban, another fact the court said established Mr Trump’s claim that he was not targeting Muslims.
Yet, Mr Kennedy, despite being a part of the majority, reprimanded Mr Trump for some of his past comments which had been deemed as divisive and controversial.
“There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention,” Mr Kennedy wrote. “That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects.”
“An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts,” he added.
Mr Trump has been reported as using disparaging terms to describe several countries across the world. Last June, he reportedly said many Nigerians who entered into the U.S. would not want to return to their “shithole” country, drawing world-wide anger.
He also reportedly said he preferred migrants from Denmark, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries as against from Africa and the Middle-East.
Following outrage, Mr Trump strongly denied the allegations, saying he had tremendous respect for Nigerians and other countries. He also wrote a letter to the African Union to distance himself from the “fake news” and assure African leaders of his support for the continent.