Supreme Court travel ban case could test Trump’s reach

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court may soon decide how courts are supposed to view presidential power in the age of Donald Trump.

The administration has promised a high court appeal of a ruling blocking the president’s ban on visitors from six majority Muslim countries. The case could be a major test for the young administration and for a court that has its 5-4 conservative majority restored with the confirmation of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch as the ninth justice.

First, the justices must agree to intervene — something they’ll probably do considering the importance of the issue. If so, then they will be dealing with an area of the law, immigration, where courts have given presidents a lot of leeway.

But the president’s power over immigration is not absolute, and several lower courts have prevented Trump from putting in place a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. by residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The travel policy was first issued a week after Trump took office on Jan. 20 and then revised following initial unfavorable court rulings. The dispute is unusual because Trump himself has supplied much of the evidence that opponents said demonstrated that anti-Muslim prejudice lay behind the policy.

At issue in the case are statements Trump made during the campaign, in interviews and in his actions as president.

“We’ve never really had, at least in recent decades a case like this which involves blatant evidence of pretextual discrimination by the president himself and also in the immigration sphere,” said Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the travel policy Thursday, saying that Trump’s comments helped show that the policy was “steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group.”

One key issue may be whether statements from candidate Trump should carry any weight. Three dissenting judges on the 4th Circuit said the statements shouldn’t because candidates say many things while campaigning and shouldn’t necessarily be held to them.