(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on President Donald Trump’s travel ban, agreeing to hear his appeal of a decision that said he overstepped his authority by restricting entry into the country by people from six mostly Muslim countries.
The case could produce a definitive ruling by late June on the legal issues that have dogged the travel ban since Trump signed the first version a week after his January 2017 inauguration, causing protests and widespread confusion at U.S. airports. The court will hear arguments in April.
Justice Department lawyers told the court that federal immigration laws "confer sweeping authority on the president to restrict the entry of aliens abroad."
A San Francisco-based federal appeals said the immigration statutes don’t let the president exclude such broad categories of people and explicitly bar him from discriminating on the basis of nationality.
Opponents also contend Trump is violating the Constitution by discriminating against Muslims. Although the appeals court didn’t reach that issue, the Supreme Court said it will consider it.
The case the court will hear stems from a lawsuit filed by Hawaii, some of its residents and a Muslim group based there. They say the travel ban has no precedent in U.S. history.
"The Constitution entrusts the immigration power to Congress in order to protect liberty," the group argued in court papers. "Congress may not -- and assuredly did not -- surrender to the executive a boundless authority to set the rules of entry and override the immigration laws at will."
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump was pleased that the court agreed to hear the appeal. "We are confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the president’s lawful and necessary action to keep the American people safe and enforce these important security standards for entry into the United States," Shah said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the ban in a separate case, said the high court "can and should put a definitive end to President Trump’s attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantee of religious equality and the basic principles of our immigration laws."
The current version bars or limits entry by people from Iran, Syria, Chad, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The ban also blocks people from North Korea and a handful of Venezuelan government officials, though those aspects of the policy aren’t at issue in the high court case.
The administration says the latest version, announced in September, was put in place only after national security officials thoroughly reviewed vetting procedures on a country-by-country basis. The policy lets the Department of Homeland Security add or remove travel restrictions as conditions change.
"The proclamation responds to multiple agencies’ specific findings that a handful of countries have deficient information-sharing practices or other factors that prevent the government from assessing the risk their nationals pose to the United States," the administration appeal argued.
Hawaii and its allies say immigration officials already had ample means to exclude people who don’t provide adequate information about themselves.
"There is no rational reason why the problem the government identifies warrants any suspension of entry, and the scope of the suspension the president has ordered simply does not correspond to the problem" identified by the policy, the group argued.
The challengers say that, even if the policy passes muster under the immigration statutes, it unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of religion because it targets Muslims. Alluding to Trump’s campaign call for an entry ban on Muslims, the Hawaii group said the policy "is the fulfillment of the president’s unconstitutional promise to enact a Muslim ban."
Trump’s lawyers say the refinements made to the travel ban, including the decisions over the last year to drop the Muslim-majority countries of Iraq and Sudan, show the policy isn’t aimed at a particular religion.
"The proclamation’s process and substance confirm that its purpose was to achieve national security and foreign-policy goals, not to impose anti-Muslim bias," the administration argued.
The case is Trump v. Hawaii, 17-965.
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