The US supreme court has upheld the travel ban imposed by the country's president Donald Trump targeting several Muslim-majority countries.
The court handed down a 5-4 ruling on Tuesday, in a significant victory for the administration and a blow to anti-discrimination advocates, reports The Guardian.
The court accepted the government’s argument that the ban was within the president’s power to craft national security policy and his authority to “suspend entry of aliens into the United States”.
Minutes after the ruling was issued, Trump tweeted: “SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS TRUMP TRAVEL BAN. Wow!”
Opponents of the ban have said it has not made the country safer, while singling out Muslims for unfair treatment and violating constitutional protections against discrimination on religious grounds.
Even as the court upheld the ban, chief justice John Roberts criticised Trump, and emphasised the importance of the principle of religious non-discrimination in US history.
“The president of the United States possesses an extraordinary power to speak to his fellow citizens and on their behalf,” Roberts wrote.
“Our Presidents have frequently used that power to espouse the principles of religious freedom and tolerance on which this nation was founded,” the chief justice said.
Roberts pointed out that George W Bush defended “the true faith of Islam” after the September 11 attacks and said America is “a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth.”
“Yet it cannot be denied,” Roberts wrote, “that the Federal Government and the Presidents who have carried its laws into effect have – from the nation’s earliest days – performed unevenly in living up to those inspiring words.”
The lawyer who argued against the ban, Neal Katyal, tweeted that he was “disappointed by [the] decision” but that Trump “shouldn’t take ruling as approval to continue attacking our constitution. I will always fight it.”
Trump has issued three executive orders curbing travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. Lower courts various iterations of the ban. The current order in December 2017.
The ban targets travellers from Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. It also includes limited sanctions against North Korea and Venezuela.
Trump’s controversial ban was elevated to America’s highest court after several iterations of the policy were rejected by the lower courts.
The president issued his first travel ban just a week after taking office in January 2017, prompting widespread chaos and protests at airports and in cities across the US.
Although the administration sought to modify the policy to pass legal muster, different versions of the travel ban have since been rejected as unconstitutional by federal judges in Hawaii, California, Maryland and Virginia.
The appeals process ultimately forced the conservative-leaning supreme court to determine the validity of the travel ban, which in its third version seeks to bar or limit entry to immigrants from five Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
The policy also imposed travel restrictions on certain government officials from Venezuela and their families, as well as North Korea, which were not challenged in court.
Oral arguments before the supreme court in April focused largely on Trump’s motivations in ordering the travel ban, given his sharp rhetoric against Muslims on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
Opponents of the travel ban argued the policy was a watered-down attempt by Trump to make good on his campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from coming to the US.
They also cited Trump’s repeated derogatory statements about Muslims and Islam, both as a candidate and since taking office, to demonstrate that the policy was rooted in religious discrimination.
While several of the supreme court justices acknowledged Trump’s record of espousing anti-Muslim views, chief justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, the two most likely swing votes, signalled they were reluctant to challenge the president’s authority on what he claims is a matter of national security.
The bench also grappled with the relevance of campaign statements in assessing official policy.
While earlier versions of Trump’s travel ban indefinitely suspended all refugee admissions to the US, the president signed an executive order in October that resumed the processing of refugees. In doing so, Trump also called for a 90-day review of the program for 11 countries, most of them Muslim-majority, deemed as “high risk” by his administration.