The Supreme Court seemed poised Wednesday to uphold President Donald Trump's ban on travel to the US by visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, a move that would hand the president a major victory on a controversial signature policy.
In the court's first full-blown consideration of a Trump order, the conservative justices who make up the court's majority seemed unwilling to hem in a president who has invoked national security to justify restrictions on who can or cannot step on US soil.
The justices in December allowed the ban to take full effect even as the legal fight over it continued, but Wednesday was the first time they took it up in open court. Trump's tough stance on immigration was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, and he rolled out the first version of the ban just a week after taking office, sparking chaos and protests at a number of airports.
The ban's challengers almost certainly need either Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Anthony Kennedy on their side if the court is to strike down the policy that its opponents have labeled a Muslim ban.
The justices are looking at the third version of a policy that Trump brought out shortly after taking office. That brought immediate turmoil as travelers were stopped at airports and some were detained for hours. The first version was blocked by courts and withdrawn. Its replacement was allowed to take partial effect, but expired in September.
The current version is indefinite and now applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. A sixth majority-Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list this month after improving "its identity-management and information sharing practices," Trump said in a proclamation.
The administration has argued that courts have no role to play because the president has broad powers over immigration and national security, and foreigners have no right to enter the country.
The challengers have said that Trump is flouting immigration law by trying to keep more than 150 million people, the vast majority of them Muslim, from entering the country. They also argue that his policy amounts to the Muslim ban that he called for as a candidate, violating the Constitution's prohibition against religious bias.