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The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld President Trump's travel ban, a decision that grants broad power to the president on matters involving immigration and national security. The vote was 5-4 with the court's conservatives placing few limits on presidential power in this regard. The dissenting liberal justices accused the majority of making a historic mistake. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Just seven days after taking office, President Trump signed the first version of the travel ban, leading to chaotic scenes in airports across the globe. The first and second versions of the travel ban were struck down by the lower courts. And today, a five-justice Supreme Court majority upheld version three.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the Constitution and the existing federal laws grant exceptionally broad authority to the president. The language of the statute, quote, "exudes deference to the president," he said. If the president finds that the entry of certain aliens would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, they may be kept out of the country.
Trump's 12-page proclamation in version three is more than enough to meet that standard, he said, especially when coupled with the elaborate administrative review that took place before enacting the third version of the ban. Turning to the challengers' claim that the travel ban was based on an unconstitutional bias against Muslims, the chief justice did not dispute President Trump's consistently anti-Muslim statements. But he said the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements. It is instead whether those statements have any significance, whether they ultimately matter in light of the neutral language adopted in version three.
The upshot of our precedents is clear, Roberts said. The court should not inhibit the president's flexibility in responding to changing world conditions, and any court inquiry into matters of national security is highly constrained. Roberts declared that as long as the president presents an explanation for the travel ban that is, quote, "plausibly related" to a legitimate national security objective, he is on firm constitutional ground. At the White House, President Trump was jubilant, calling the decision a tremendous victory for the American people.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The ruling shows that all of the attacks from the media and the Democrat politicians are wrong.
TOTENBERG: But among national security experts across the political spectrum, there was distinct disappointment. John Bellinger served in a variety of national security positions in the George W. Bush administration after 9/11.
JOHN BELLINGER: It's still a pig, but the administration has put just enough lipstick on it to look pretty for five of the nine justices.
TOTENBERG: The court majority, he said, focused more on the office of the presidency than on President Trump.
BELLINGER: The result is unfortunate, but it's not surprising given that the third version of the travel ban has corrected enough of the legal deficiencies in the first two versions for the majority of the justices to uphold it.
TOTENBERG: David Cole is legal director of the ACLU.
DAVID COLE: Today's decision is one of the court's historic failures to live up to its obligation to defend the rights of the most vulnerable from those who are most powerful.
TOTENBERG: And University of Chicago constitutional law scholar Aziz Huq condemned the decision, contending that because there was rare evidence in this case of a presidential bias against a single religious group, today's court ruling marks a profound change.
AZIZ HUQ: And that, I think, is a real shift in the law.
TOTENBERG: The court's four liberal justices dissented today in two separate opinions with both Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor delivering rare oral dissents from the bench. Sotomayor spoke for some 20 minutes and denounced the majority decision as analogous to the Supreme Court's World War II-era decision upholding the internment of the Japanese in concentration camps. Chief Justice Roberts in response said the internment decision has, quote, "nothing to do with this case." Indeed that the 1944 decision, he said, was, quote, "gravely wrong on the day it was decided and has been overruled in the court of history."
But Sotomayor was not placated. The court's majority opinion, she said, redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying the Japanese internment decision and merely replaces one gravely wrong decision with another. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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