The Supreme Court ruled Monday that President Trump's immigration travel ban against six majority-Muslim countries can take full effect while legal challenges against the latest version are still tied up in courts.
The high court's identical orders in two challenges to the ban mean that most travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad cannot enter the United States while the cases proceed.
Lower courts had exempted more travelers who they said had "bona fide" connections to the United States, such as the grandparents and in-laws of citizens. Those exemptions mirrored ones designed by the Supreme Court in June, when the justices allowed only part of an earlier, temporary travel ban. The new ban, issued in September, is of indefinite length.
The orders are a victory for a White House in need of a win days after Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the lifting of restrictions on this ban, minimum security standards for entry into the United States can be enforced," said Michael Glassner, executive director of Donald J. Trump for President.
By allowing the full travel ban to take effect for now, the justices may be signaling that they are likely to uphold it on the merits at a later date -- an interpretation the American Civil Liberties Union disputed.
"It's unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims," said Omar Jadwat, who directs the ACLU's immigrants' rights project. "We continue to stand for freedom, equality, and for those who are unfairly being separated from their loved ones."
The unsigned orders issued Monday urge two federal appeals courts with oral arguments scheduled later this week to render decisions "with appropriate dispatch." Two justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor -- would have denied the Trump administration's request.
The battle over the travel ban dates to the first week of the Trump administration and has involved different countries, restrictions and exemptions.
After losing in nearly all federal district and appeals courts through the winter and spring, the administration won the Supreme Court's partial support in June. The justices said travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations -- a group that included Sudan but not Chad at the time -- could be banned if they lacked a direct connection to people or institutions in the U.S.
That ban expired in September, however, when the administration completed its worldwide review of screening procedures used by foreign governments and announced its new, more permanent policy by proclamation. The Supreme Court dismissed the pending challenge to the earlier ban.
But before the third one could go into effect, it was blocked by the same district court judges in Hawaii and Maryland who struck down the prior version.
Those judges cited different reasons for their decisions. In Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson said the latest ban illegally targeted people based on nationality. In Maryland, Judge Theodore Chuang said it unconstitutionally singled out individuals based on their Muslim religion.
The administration claims in its latest Supreme Court filings that the new travel ban is the result of its "comprehensive" global review and should therefore withstand challenges the prior versions did not.
"The proclamation amply justifies the president’s finding that the national interest warrants the exclusion of certain foreign nationals, and conclusively rebuts respondents’ claims that the entry restrictions were motivated by animus rather than protecting national security," the Justice Department said in its latest brief Thursday.
Opponents -- the state of Hawaii and the International Refugee Assistance Project -- say the government's motives remain the same, citing President Trump's statements during the presidential campaign and his tweets and comments this year.
"The president’s third travel ban, like his first and his second, is irreconcilable with the immigration laws and the Constitution," Hawaii's latest brief said. "It continues the same policy of excluding Muslims that multiple courts previously held unconstitutional."
Trump fanned the flames against Islamist terrorism again last week by retweeting three videos from a British ultra-nationalist group depicting Muslim violence. The tweets touched off a war of words with British leaders, some of whom urged that the president's planned State visit should be called off.
.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2017
President Trump has used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country. It's increasingly clear that any official visit from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed. pic.twitter.com/oZ1Kt0JCfY— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) November 30, 2017
Regardless of the Supreme Court's latest ruling, both cases are headed for oral arguments later this week before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Seattle and the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.
When those courts issue their verdicts -- most likely before the end of the month -- the losing sides are likely to seek a final verdict from the Supreme Court. Those cases could be heard and decided before the end of the high court's term in June.