US & World

US Supreme Court to hear arguments on Trump travel ban

FILE: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the state of Hawaii's challenge to the Trump administration travel ban.
FILE: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the state of Hawaii's challenge to the Trump administration travel ban.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

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The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Wednesday on the legality of President Trump’s travel ban. At issue is whether the federal government can legally block the entry of people from several Muslim-majority countries.

The justices will focus on Hawaii's challenge to the third version of Trump's travel ban, which was revised following early legal objections. 

The case is the first major challenge to Trump's immigration policies to go before the justices.  

Announced in a proclamation last September, the current travel ban blocks the entry of most people from the Muslim-dominant nations of Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. Chad was also on the list, but was recently removed. It also blocks the entry of people from North Korea and a limited number of government officials from Venezuela, although those provisions aren't part of the legal challenge.

The state of Hawaii has argued that Trump’s order unfairly targets people on the basis of their religion and national origin. The Trump administration officials say they chose the targeted countries based on national security issues, and whether the countries were willing to cooperate with U.S. officials on these issues. 

The Trump administration's attempts to block certain travelers and immigrants have been subject to legal challenges since January 2017, when the president first introduced an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order caused chaos in airports around the country, including at Los Angeles International Airport.

Since then, the Trump administration has introduced two modified versions of the travel ban.

Back in October, federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the third and latest version of the ban from taking effect. In his temporary restraining order, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii wrote that the travel ban "plainly discriminates based on nationality."

However, in December, following a request from the Trump administration, the Supreme Court allowed the revised travel ban to be implemented while the legal challenges play out.

The court's action allowed the government to ban or restrict immigration and travel from the countries listed in the revised ban, most of them with Muslim majorities. Entry to most travelers from the affected countries has been restricted.

In its September proclamation announcing the current travel ban, the Trump administration barred most immigrant and non-immigrant travel from the listed countries but said travelers could obtain "case-by-case waivers" from the ban. According to recent news reports, these waivers have rarely been granted

The SCOTUSblog said there are two main issues that the high court will consider: first, whether the president exceeded his authority over immigration by issuing the September proclamation. Second, the justices will weigh whether the order violates the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause, which among its provisions bars the government from favoring one religion over another.

Many eyes will be on Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's appointee to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch surprised some observers when he sided with liberal colleagues in declaring a Trump-defended immigration deportation law as too vague to be enforced.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the travel ban case in June.