On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling upholding President Trump’s travel ban. The decision has been highly anticipated for months, in large part due to the precedent it sets with regard to presidential authority over immigration.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, noting that the president maintains extensive power to regulate and restrict immigration. He also dismissed the claim of anti-Muslim bias, which has been the primary argument offered by those who disagree with the ban, including the lower courts.
Roberts is entirely correct when he rejects the notion of this being a “Muslim ban,” as the vast majority of Muslims worldwide are excluded from the ban. The seven nations from which immigration is restricted under the travel ban were originally Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The latest edition of the travel ban replaces Iraq and Sudan with North Korea and Venezuela. Of the nine most Muslim-populated countries in the world, only Iran makes the list. Moreover, the six most heavily Muslim populated nations—Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Turkey—are all absent from the list.
There are 49 Muslim-majority countries, meaning that virtually all of them are not impacted by the travel ban. Furthermore, the global Muslim population stands at 1.6 billion, with the ban only affecting about 130 million, or eight percent of them.
Clearly this is not a Muslim ban by any stretch of the imagination, but many wonder why these seven nations in particular were selected by the Trump administration. Interestingly enough, a 2015 bill signed by President Obama restricted immigration from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. The Department of Homeland Security under Obama expanded the law to include Libya, Somalia, and Syria, rounding out the original seven nations in question. The Obama administration referenced these as “countries of concern,” but the claims of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias were strangely absent at that time. The additions of North Korea and Venezuela are easily justified given the current state of both nations, but it also reinforces that this isn’t a Muslim ban at all.
None of this represents speculation of whether the travel ban is a good policy or not, as John Roberts points out in explaining that “the Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review. We express no view on the soundness of the policy.”
“The proclamation is squarely within the scope of Presidential authority,” Roberts wrote in reference to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The ruling merely illuminates the authority of the president to regulate immigration to some degree, as that is within the constitutional purview of the executive branch.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent, arguing that “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.” She ignores existing law relating to these specific nations and attempts to equate alleged intent with the actual text of the ban.
“The Proclamation is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices. The text says nothing of religion,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in repudiation of Sotomayor’s claim.
The implications of the ruling may be significant in the very near future, as immigration on the U.S. southern border remains a hotly contested issue.
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