Trump Travel Ban Questioned by Liberal Supreme Court Justices

(Bloomberg) -- Liberal members of the Supreme Court questioned President Donald Trump’s travel ban as the justices took their first direct look at a policy that indefinitely bars more than 150 million people from entering the country.

The questions came early in an argument Wednesday that is scheduled to last an hour. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Democratic appointee, asked, "Where does the president get the authority" to impose the ban when Congress already enacted a visa waiver process that required heightened vetting in some cases.

Hearing the last arguments of their nine-month term, the justices are considering contentions by opponents of the travel ban that Trump overstepped his authority and was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

Trump’s legal team contends that federal immigration law gives the president broad discretion to decide who can enter the country. The current ban was put in place after national security officials reviewed vetting procedures on a country-by-country basis.

Justice Elena Kagan, another Democratic appointee, raised a hypothetical issue of a president who had made anti-Semitic remarks and whose administration found security reasons to recommend a ban on travel from Israel.

"This is an out-of-the-box kind of president in my hypothetical," she said. "Who knows what his heart of hearts is."

"The question is, what are reasonable observers to think?" Kagan said.

The policy bars or limits entry by people from Iran, Syria, 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 at the high court. Trump removed Chad from the list of restricted countries earlier this month.

The case is Trump v. Hawaii, 17-965.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.