The Supreme Court on Tuesday dropped one of two challenges it was considering to President Donald Trump’s travel ban policy, declaring moot a lawsuit over Trump’s attempt to block issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries.
The high court’s move appeared to be an attempt by the justices to extricate themselves from pending litigation over the travel ban order that Trump issued in March, which was effectively superseded by a new directive the president signed on Sept. 24.
However, any effort by the court to clear the decks of the travel ban issue is likely to be short-lived. At least four lawsuits have been filed or are being retooled to challenge the new Trump proclamation, which imposed a varied set of travel restrictions on nationals of eight countries, including five of those on the original list.
One judge has already scheduled a hearing for Monday on a request to block Trump’s new order before it kicks in next week.
The Supreme Court’s action Tuesday night removed from its docket a case from Maryland in which refugee resettlement groups and several individuals argued that Trump’s order in March exceeded his legal authority and was prompted by unconstitutional bias against Muslims.
The high court’s new order vacated a caustic ruling that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued in May in which the court’s chief judge declared that Trump’s ban “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”
The Supreme Court said in its order that it was “following our established practice” by wiping out the rulings issued by lower courts and was not offering an opinion on the validity of those decisions.
“We express no view on the merits,” the order said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, publicly noted her disagreement with her colleagues’ decision to vacate the earlier rulings. The court’s order said Sotomayor would have left the lower-court rulings in place and simply unwound the high court’s decision to take the case in the first place.
The justices took no action on the other travel ban case they previously agreed to hear: a suit brought by the State of Hawaii and a local Muslim cleric.
While there was no public explanation from the high court for the lack of a parallel order in that case, it is harder to argue that that dispute is moot because the injunction a judge issued there covered not only the visa ban but also a 120-day halt the president ordered to the admission of refugees to the U.S. from across the globe. That suspension runs through Oct. 24.
The justices could simply hold that case until after that date, declare it moot and issue a similar order wiping out a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Trump failed to comply with existing law in issuing his March directive.
Both cases were originally scheduled to be argued at the high court on Tuesday, but the justices scuttled the arguments after Trump issued his Sept. 24 proclamation replacing the earlier order.
The Trump administration had asked the justices to declare both cases moot and vacate the lower-court rulings, just as the justices did Tuesday in the Maryland case. Those challenging the travel ban told the justices they should hear and resolve the cases. The challengers also opposed throwing out the lower-court decisions invalidating the ban.
Doing that eliminated the ability to cite those cases as precedent in future litigation.
Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Supreme Court’s action.
The International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the groups behind the Maryland suit the justices essentially set aside Tuesday, issued a statement vowing to keep pressing the fight against Trump’s latest travel ban order.
“This case is certainly not moot for our clients and for all of those who continue to be discriminated against by this shameful order and its updated version,” said Mariko Hirose, the group’s litigation director. “IRAP and our partners are not done fighting for the rights of refugees, Muslim Americans and their families. We will be back in court next week to challenge the most recent iteration of the Muslim ban. This administration should know that we will not give up until they’re held accountable for their discriminatory actions.”
In a related development, the same judge who handled the Hawaii case and issued a broad injunction blocking Trump’s March directive told government lawyers Tuesday that he wanted to see a report that the acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke, sent to Trump last month detailing country-by-country efforts to step up the vetting of foreigners who apply for visas.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson demanded the report by noon Eastern Time on Saturday in connection with Hawaii’s request for a new injunction blocking the third iteration of Trump’s travel ban policy.
Trump administration officials said last month that the report would not be publicly released because it is classified and discusses vulnerabilities in vetting processes used by various countries.
Read more here: Supreme Court drops one Trump travel ban case