We agree with dissenting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer that Tuesday’s ruling allowing President Trump’s controversial travel ban to go into effect because it is not a “Muslim ban” is “an absolute sham.” The presidential order always walked like an insidious attack on all Muslims and quacked like an appeal to racists in Trump’s base.
But in a 5-4 decision in Trump v. Hawaii, the highest court in the land, ruling down party lines with conservatives winning, said presidential power over immigration was not undermined by Trump’s incendiary statements about the dangers that he said Muslims pose to Americans. The justices also ruled that the president did not exceed his power under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which restricts the president’s ability to “suspend the entry of … any class of aliens.”
Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion waves away both of travel-ban opponents’ arguments. Writing for the majority, he said Trump had ample statutory authority to make national security judgments in the arena of immigration. And he rejected a constitutional challenge to the president’s latest executive order, his third, this one issued as a proclamation in September.
Now, the ruling gives the president of the United States license to ban a religious group from this country. Who’s next? And someone will be next.
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The court ruling is also a lesson in the importance of appointments to the court. Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee, cast the decisive fifth vote to uphold the ban. If former President Obama’s final appointee, Merrick Garland, had been allowed by the GOP leadership to undergo the vetting process and had been approved, Tuesday’s ruling might have gone differently.
The ruling hints at a battle royale among the justices, where even the controversial World War II internment of the Japanese residents was thrown into the mix. In separate statements, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan issued stinging dissenting opinions. Some criticized fellow justices for ignoring Trump’s own words from 2015, threatening a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country can figure out what the hell is going on?”
Kudos to Sotomayor, who did not pull punches. She said President Trump’s motivation was not national security but discriminating against “a disfavored group.”
The court’s decision marked the conclusion of a long-running dispute over Trump’s presidential power and his effort to make good on his campaign promises to secure the nation’s borders. It also comes at a time when the Anti-Defamation League has found that that domestic white supremacists and other far-right groups committed the majority of extremist-related murders in the United States in 2017. These hate groups were “directly responsible” for 18 out of 34 extremist-related deaths. Islamic extremists were responsible for nine U.S. deaths. As long as the president can successfully whip up the fear of all Muslims into a rallying cry, he will never acknowledge that violent radicals exist within his own base. That’s what the “hell is going on.”
Trump called the High Court decision “a tremendous success for the American people.”
No, it’s not. The United States is barring citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen (plus North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials) because of whom they worship. This doesn’t make us safer. It makes us wholly un-American.