DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Another court ruling yesterday - the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, upheld President Trump's travel ban in a decision that granted the president broad power on matters involving immigration and national security. Here's more from NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: In many ways, President Trump may have been lucky that the lower court struck down his first two attempts at a travel ban aimed at predominantly Muslim countries. That gave the administration time to do what previous administrations have done - conduct a thorough review of what kind of rule was needed and write a policy in a neutral way, free from candidate and President Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric. And that, in turn, allowed Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the five-justice conservative court majority, to rattle off many of Trump's most inflammatory statements about Muslims, but to distance the court from those statements.
The issue before us, said the chief justice, is not whether to denounce those statements; it is instead the significance of those statements, whether they ultimately matter in light of the neutral language of the third version of the travel ban, the one before the court. The majority's conclusion was that basically, Trump's statements had no relevance, and that by and large, they fit into the court's past rulings that have sought to keep the judicial branch of government out of national security matters. In short, regardless of whatever animus Trump may have exhibited, said the chief justice, as long as the administration was able to present an explanation for the travel ban that is plausibly related to a legitimate national security objective, the president is on firm ground.
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: That's John Bellinger, who served in top national security positions in the George W. Bush administration. He was among many conservatives who were disappointed by yesterday's ruling. Another was General Michael Hayden, one of the five former CIA directors who filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn the travel ban.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: The Supreme Court isn't final because it's infallible, as they say. It's infallible because it's final. We have a decision. We'll live with the decision. It's not a good decision.
TOTENBERG: Again, John Bellinger.
BELLINGER: Sadly, travel ban policies will continue to have a damaging effect on the United States. They'll contribute to the myth that the United States really is anti-Muslim and at war with Islam, and it will alienate our allies and damage our reputation in the world as a tolerant society.
TOTENBERG: But Attorney General Jeff Sessions hailed the ruling as long overdue.
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JEFF SESSIONS: This decision is critical to ensuring the continued authority of President Trump and all future presidents to protect the American people.
TOTENBERG: The gravity of yesterday's ruling was emphasized by two rare oral dissents from the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke for some 20 minutes in opposition to the conservative majority's reasoning, comparing the decision to the court's notorious ruling upholding the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II. The analogy clearly irked the chief justice, for Roberts, in response at the end of his opinion, explicitly overruled that 1944 decision, saying it had been wrong from day one.
There are some puzzling aspects of the court's opinions, most notably, Justice Anthony Kennedy's 1 1/2-page concurring opinion. Kennedy was the decisive fifth vote in the majority and signed on to the Roberts opinion, but he wrote separately to make what he called this further observation. There are numerous government actions that the judiciary cannot correct, he said, but that does not mean officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it protects, including freedom of belief and expression. An anxious world, he wrote, must know that our government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect so that freedom extends outward and lasts. What does that mean? Is it a warning to the Trump administration not to go too far, or is it a Hamletlike lament?
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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