The Supreme Court on Tuesday handed President Donald Trump a win on his travel ban – and experts say it might indicate more such victories to come on immigration.
While the ruling stuck to the specific travel ban policy, it could mean two things for Trump’s agenda: It could be a signal that the Supreme Court might be favorable to the administration on a host of immigration-related lawsuits in the pipeline, and it could embolden the administration to push its boundaries elsewhere.
The decision upheld the President’s ban on individuals from certain countries, many of them majority Muslim, entering the United States, sending a strong message that Trump has broad powers under immigration law to act to protect national security and that statements made during an election campaign may not be legally determinative of the President’s intent.
The ruling has positives and negatives for people on any side of the issue, with even advocates who continue to challenge the President’s immigration agenda finding hope to fight on.
Karen Tumlin, the director of legal strategy for the pro-immigration National Immigration Law Center, said she was heartened that the decision declined to reprimand lower court judges for issuing nationwide rulings blocking Trump’s policies from going into effect – as the government had asked – and that it said while Trump’s history of comments wasn’t relevant in this case, it was something a court could theoretically consider when evaluating a policy.
The majority could have chosen to handle those issues differently, she argued, suggesting the high court intended to leave them open.
But she expressed dismay that the 5-4 majority ruling was “blind” to the context of the travel ban and “unhinged from the facts,” in her eyes.
“A decision like this does shake one’s belief,” Tumlin said. “Certainly I and folks at the National Immigration Law Center will turn to continuing a longer fight for justice. … As long as the Trump administration is trying to rewrite and radically alter the nation’s immigration system, folks like my organization and others will be taking them to court to challenge that.”
Washington University law professor Stephen Legomsky, who was a counsel on immigration policy in the Obama administration, said the ruling indicated to him that where the conservative justices agree with a policy outcome, they will find a way to give the administration leeway.
“I think it does show that for the five Republican appointees on the court, deference to the executive branch policy positions will still be the rule of the day as long as they like the outcome. Those same justices were not deferential to President Obama with respect to (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), but they are showing extreme deference to this President on this proclamation even on the face of explicitly discriminatory public statements,” Legomsky said. “The court has shown it is willing to be very selective when it comes to showing deference to the President.”
Still, other experts note the ruling was specific to one type of presidential authority: those who are entering the country from abroad. Many of the challenges to Trump’s agenda are on the issue of immigrants already in the United States, which raises a different set of legal questions.
“I’d be hesitant reading too much into this,” said Josh Blackman, an associate professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. “The travel ban focuses on a very specific attribute of immigration, which is entry. It doesn’t focus on people who are already here. So this doesn’t necessarily speak to something like DACA, or asylum, people who already entered the United States.”
CNN is tracking more than three dozen lawsuits or court cases nationwide that challenge some aspect of the President’s immigration policy, some of which have resulted in judges or appellate courts smacking down the administration. But lower courts similarly pushed back on Trump’s travel ban, and the Supreme Court ultimately upheld its third iteration.
Now the administration could pursue more policies similar to the travel ban or be emboldened to push its cases all the way to the highest court for vindication.
Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr suggested that along the lines of the travel ban, Trump could block nationals of a Central American country from entering the US because of gang violence, for example, or continue to push the boundaries domestically.
“I think in particular the Supreme Court is likely to defer to the President on any future executive order on immigration. Historically, they’ve expressed the view that immigration touches on national sovereignty and foreign relations and they don’t want to step on that, and this decision today is just the latest example of that deference,” Yale-Loehr said Tuesday. “I think they may feel emboldened by today’s decision. … A lot of litigation is going to get started indirectly because of the case today.”
But, like Blackman, he cautioned against reading too much into any single decision.
“A tea leaf is always a tea leaf. It’s hard to figure out what it might mean,” Yale-Loehr said.
Either way, Blackman said, the ruling did not rebuke Trump – and that means the court battle will continue.
“Had the court come out differently, and they rejected Trump’s ban altogether, that would have signaled, ‘You’re screwed,’ ” Blackman said. “Had Trump lost this, it basically would have been ballgame over, resistance prevailed. But that’s not what happened.”
Clarification: This post has been updated to better reflect Tumlin’s analysis of the ruling.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.