By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday handed 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 for now a fierce fight in the courts over whether the policy represented an unlawful Muslim ban. Trump can now claim vindication after lower courts had blocked his travel ban announced in 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 U.S. immigration law or the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the government “has set forth a sufficient national security justification” to prevail.
“We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts added.
The ruling affirmed broad presidential discretion over who is allowed to enter the United States. It means that the current ban can remain in effect and that Trump could potentially add more countries. Trump has said the policy is needed to protect the country against attacks by Islamic militants.
The current ban, announced in September, prohibits entry into the United States of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The Supreme Court allowed it to go largely into effect in December while the legal challenge continued.
The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims and urged courts to take into account his inflammatory comments during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump as a candidate called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The travel ban was one of Trump’s signature hardline immigration policies that have been a central part of his presidency and “America First” approach. Trump issued his first version just a week after taking office, though it was quickly halted by the courts.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)