In announcing it would review President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from six mainly Muslim countries this fall, the Supreme Court on Monday struck a cautious interim compromise. The justices allowed a constrained version of the order to take effect for the time being — but only on foreigners “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The effect of that ruling is likely to fall most heavily on refugees from some of the world’s most desperate places, while continuing to allow a flow of visitors from the six countries singled out by the Trump administration — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — albeit in diminished numbers.

The court’s attempt to craft a temporary way forward that would limit the harm to individuals is welcome and should prevent hardship for thousands of students, relatives of U.S. citizens and others. Nonetheless, the three conservative justices who dissented, arguing that the full ban should go into effect now, may be right in predicting that the court opened the door to a muddled new season of immigration litigation. As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the dissenters, lawsuits are now likely to flourish as the government and affected individuals and institutions struggle over what constitutes “a bona fide relationship” and who may stake a credible claim to one.

All immigration policy involves splitting the baby — admitting some who want to enter the United States while excluding many — in one form or another; the high court is likely to delimit the terms of that exercise later this year. Still, it’s notable that the administration, which has argued so passionately that a travel ban is urgently required on the basis of national security, never asked the court to adjudicate the ban’s lawfulness on an expedited basis. That alone gives the lie to the supposed urgency that Trump has said compelled his executive order in the first place.

The court also served notice that the administration’s foot-dragging on crafting new screening and vetting procedures for immigrants from the affected countries — the very rationale it used in arguing for a ban from the outset — will now come under heightened scrutiny. Officials have contended that rulings by lower courts blocking implementation of the ban also stopped the administration from developing those more muscular procedures, a process that was supposed to take 90 days for the six mostly Muslim countries and 120 days for refugees.

That argument was always suspect. Now, with more than 150 days having elapsed since the president’s first ban was announced in January, and more than 100 days since the revised one was issued in March, it’s even fishier. If there’s such urgency, why haven’t improved procedures been developed, which would render the ban itself moot by now? The justices themselves asked the administration and groups challenging the ban to address that question, which will be an even more glaring point of contention when the case is heard by the court this fall.

Predictably, Trump hailed the court’s interim decision as a famous victory; it isn’t. A key component of the ban, affecting thousands of potential visitors with ties to this country, remains blocked. And until the court issues a final ruling, later this year or next, the very constitutionality of the administration’s action remains in doubt.

Editorial by The Washington Post


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