The Supreme Court's ruling to uphold Donald Trump's controversial travel ban is wrong and will only fuel the president's nativist agenda. But the ruling also holds another message, argues Michael Knigge.
Ever since the Supreme Court overruled lower courts and allowed the third iteration of President Trump's travel ban to go into effect last December it could be assumed that it would ultimately uphold the controversial move.
That the court finally did so on Tuesday therefore does not come as a big surprise. That does not make the Supreme Court's decision any less troubling.
On a practical level it deals a serious blow to the residents of the countries affected by the ban. But more broadly and more importantly, it validates President Trump's anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim vision as accepted reality — albeit cloaked by national security arguments and the inclusion of two non-Muslim majority countries, North Korea and Venezuela.
Still, the message that is being sent to Americans and the world by the greenlighting of the travel ban — particularly at a time when Trump's draconian anti-immigrant stance had just reached a new peak with his child separation policy — is unmistakable.
License for Trump
Regardless of whether Trump's wall will ultimately be built or not, the US is shuttering its doors to the world. It's saying that potential immigrants, particularly if they are Muslim or Hispanic, present a danger to the US and should be kept out. Such a stance is an abdication of America's traditional vision of itself as a nation of immigrants and will only fuel already existing nativist sentiments. It will also surely be understood by President Trump as license to continue his utterly anti-American anti-immigrant stance.
That the Supreme Court along partisan lines in a narrow 5-4 vote chose to ignore Donald Trump's repeatedly stated calls for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," concluding instead that his directive was neutral and within his presidential power, is shameful. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor rightly wrote in her dissent, it goes against the principle of religious tolerance routinely held up by Republicans. It also fails to curb excessive executive power.
Success and limits of judicial checks
This outcome is also significant because it shows the limits of judicial checks on President Trump. When, one week after his inauguration, Trump issued a broad and sloppily written executive order banning travelers from mostly Muslim countries — including US legal residents — US courts swiftly struck it down. They did so again with a second, slightly improved version.
But when the Trump administration's third iteration of the travel ban finally made its way to the Supreme Court, it was watered down enough and written in a way that it would likely pass muster with the conservative majority of the judges — including the court's newest and, in this case, decisive member, Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee.
That's why there is still another message to be gleaned from this Supreme Court validation of this president's anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim vision of America: Elections matter.