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Supreme Court Allows Grandparents, Relatives To Enter U.S. Despite Travel Ban


Today the Supreme Court weighed in again on the Trump administration's ban on travel from six majority Muslim countries. The court said it would not block part of an order from a federal judge in Hawaii. The judge had said grandparents, along with other close family members, should be let into the United States. And of course, there's more to it than that. The Supreme Court also gave the administration a partial victory. I asked NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg about all of this, starting with a review of this legal saga.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, in January, President Trump signed a broad executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And as you may remember, there was chaos at airports here and abroad. Several states, the ACLU, refugee organizations, they all went to court challenging the order. And by and large they won with extraordinary consistency. So in early March, President Trump signed a revised order, hoping that this one would fly. That, too, was challenged. Again and again the Trump administration lost in both district courts and appeals courts.

The administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, and in June the justices agreed to review the travel ban, but in October, this coming October. In the meantime, the court set out parameters for the Trump administration to follow on who should be exempt from the travel ban - in short, who should be admitted.

CORNISH: And that would be...

TOTENBERG: Close family relatives, people who'd already applied for admission as refugees through an established refugee organization, those who were admitted to schools here or had an employment offer. In short, those with, as the court put it, bona fide connections to a family, commercial or other U.S. entity.

CORNISH: So now what's happened in the last couple of weeks?

TOTENBERG: Well, a game of procedural cat and mouse played by the administration and those challenging the ban. In this case it's the state of Hawaii. The administration interpreted what the Supreme Court said in what critics say is the narrowest possible way. It, for instance, wouldn't allow grandparents of U.S. citizens to qualify for admission. It wouldn't allow those with previous connections to U.S. refugee organizations to qualify. So the state of Hawaii challenged those interpretations and others.

Initially, the federal judge in Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson, refused to consider the matter, saying he didn't have jurisdiction. So Hawaii went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which told Judge Watson he did have jurisdiction. The judge then agreed with some of the government's interpretations, but not with others. He said grandparents and those who have a relationship with refugee organizations should be admitted, but that other categories that the administration had said were off limits could remain so.

CORNISH: So what's been the response from the Trump administration?

TOTENBERG: Well, the administration then sought to leapfrog the normal appeals process, going directly to the Supreme Court and skipping the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and seeking to block Judge Watson's order. But the maneuver didn't work. Instead, the court today told the government to go back to the 9th Circuit and appeal. In the meantime, the justices refuse to even temporarily block the grandparents ruling.

But it did give the Trump administration a partial victory, allowing it to continue with its ban on refugee organizations, that category of people. The court's three most conservative justices would have blocked Judge Watson's order in its entirety.

CORNISH: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.