WASHINGTON • The US Supreme Court yesterday handed Mr Donald Trump one of the biggest victories of his presidency, upholding his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.
The 5-4 ruling, with the court's five conservatives in the majority, ends a fierce fight in the courts over whether the policy represented an unlawful Muslim ban.
Mr Trump can now claim vindication after lower courts had blocked his travel ban announced last September, as well as two prior versions, in legal challenges brought by the state of Hawaii and others.
The court held that the challengers had failed to show that the ban violates either US immigration law or the US Constitution's First Amendment prohibition on the government favouring one religion over another.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the government "has set forth a sufficient national security justification" to prevail. "We express no view on the soundness of the policy," he added.
The ruling affirmed broad presidential discretion over who is allowed to enter the US. It means that the current ban can remain in effect and that Mr Trump could potentially add more countries.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the actions taken by Mr Trump to suspend entry of certain classes of people were "well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other president - the only question is evaluating the actions of this particular President in promulgating an otherwise valid proclamation".
He has said the policy is needed to protect the country against attacks by Islamist militants.
The current ban announced in September prohibits entry into the US of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The Supreme Court had allowed it to go largely into effect last December while the legal challenge continued.
The Chief Justice said the actions taken by Mr Trump to suspend entry of certain classes of people were "well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other president - the only question is evaluating the actions of this particular President in promulgating an otherwise valid proclamation".
The challengers have argued that the policy was motivated by Mr Trump's enmity towards Muslims and urged courts to take into account his inflammatory comments during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr Trump, as a candidate, had called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States".
In dissent, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said there were "stark parallels" with the court's now discredited 1944 decision that upheld US internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Justice Sotomayor described at length various statements Mr Trump made on the campaign trail.
"Taking all the evidence together, a reasonable observer would conclude that the proclamation was driven primarily by anti-Muslim animus," she added.
The travel ban was one of Mr Trump's signature hardline immigration policies that have been a central part of his presidency and "America First" approach. He issued his first version just a week after taking office, though it was quickly halted by the courts.
Chad initially was on the list of countries targeted by Mr Trump that was announced last September, but he removed it on April 10. Iraq and Sudan were on earlier versions of the ban. Venezuela and North Korea also were targeted in the current policy. Those restrictions were not challenged in court.
Mr Trump also has moved to rescind protections for young immigrants, sometimes called Dreamers, brought into the United States illegally as children, intensified deportation efforts and pursued limits on legal immigration.
But last week he retreated on his administration's practice of separating the children of immigrants from their parents when families were detained for illegally entering the US.