WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's efforts to restrict entry into the United States by residents of some mainly Muslim countries have been the subject of lawsuits almost since the moment he announced the first travel ban in January. The latest version of the ban, rolled out Sunday, is certain to attract more legal challenges and is already affecting the high court's review.
The justices on Monday canceled the scheduled Oct. 10 argument in the case and asked both sides to explain whether the matter has been overtaken by events, or in legal parlance, is moot.
Eight countries are included in Trump's latest declaration — Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. Three of them, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela, are new, and Sudan, which was included in the earlier ban, has been dropped. The earlier ban lasted 90 days. The new one has no expiration date.
Here are some questions and answers about the new travel policy and its potential for Supreme Court action:
WHAT IS THE SUPEME COURT LOOKING AT?
In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the travel ban that Trump announced in March — replacing his January policy after courts blocked it — is legal. Two federal appeals courts found the March ban violated the Constitution or federal immigration law.
The ban was in place for 90 days, and it expired Sunday. The new ban took effect immediately for people in countries affected by both versions. The rest of it will be enforced starting on Oct. 18.
HOW WILL THE NEW POLICY AFFECT THE CASE?
The court ordered both sides to file additional arguments by Oct. 5 setting out how they think the new policy affects the ongoing case. When the justices acted in June, they knew the policy would expire before the case would be argued. The possibility of getting rid of the case without a firm ruling on the travel ban's legality has always lurked in the background. Now, though, the justices might plausibly decide they want lower courts to assess the new policy first or require brand new lawsuits.
Sunday's proclamation also did not deal with limits on refugees coming to the United States. Trump has until the end of the month to announce a new cap on refugees for the government spending year that begins Oct. 1. A temporary 120-day ban on refugees expires Oct. 24. The justices also want to know if that part of the case is moot, or soon will be.
Of course, depending on the answers, the court could reschedule argument for later in the term that starts next week.
IS THE NEW POLICY MORE LIKELY TO SURVIVE A COURT CHALLENGE?
It depends whom you ask. Advocates for immigrant groups say the new policy still largely targets Muslims.
"This is still a Muslim ban — they simply added three additional countries," said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. The group sued over the earlier bans. "Of those countries, Chad is majority Muslim, travel from North Korea is already basically frozen and the restrictions on Venezuela only affect government officials on certain visas."
But Stephen Yale-Loehr, an expert on immigration law at Cornell University, said the third version is narrower and better explained than its predecessors.
"In sum, the third time may be the charm for President Trump's immigration travel ban. The courts are more likely to uphold this version," Yale-Loehr said.