WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court late Monday allowed complete enforcement of the latest version of President Donald Trump's restriction on travel to the U.S., giving the White House a rare courtroom win over the travel ban issue.
With just two noted dissents, the court lifted lower court rulings that had exempted certain family members of people in the United States from the travel limits — including grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-and-sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and cousins.
The federal government is now free to completely enforce the restrictions on visa applicants announced in late September.
The rules keep the ban on visas from five of the six countries from the original travel executive order — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — but lift restrictions on visitors from the Sudan. And they add new limits on visitors and immigrants from Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.
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Lawsuits challenging the new restrictions, brought by Hawaii and the International Refugee Assistance Project, continue to play out in the lower courts. The Supreme Court will revisit the issue of whether to let the entire ban be enforced or whether to exempt close family members, once the other appeals reach the justices early next year.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have kept the family exemptions in place while the issue is on appeal.
This is not a ruling on the merits, and we continue our fight. We are at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to argue that the Muslim ban should ultimately be struck down. https://t.co/17CQDxpUhx
"It's unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now," said Omar Jadwat of the ACLU. "We continue to stand for freedom, equality, and for those who are unfairly being separated from their loved ones."
The Council on Islamic-American Relations, which is also suing the administration on behalf of six Muslim Americans, denounced the decision in a statement, saying it allowed the "Muslim ban 3.0" to go forward, at least temporarily.
But the statement noted that the court could still find the restrictions unconstitutional later.
The refugee group's litigation director, Mariko Hirose, said that the organization would "not give up fighting until this discriminatory ban is blocked in its entirety.”
Despite the rare win on the issue, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the administration was not surprised.
"The proclamation is lawful and essential to protecting our homeland, Gidley said. "We look forward to presenting a fuller defense of the proclamation as the pending cases work their way through the courts."
Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton praised the decision, saying department personnel could now implement the administration’s “common sense travel restrictions.”
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to allow us to fulfill this most vital mission performed by any sovereign nation,” Houlton said.
Judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Hawaii's challenge to the latest travel restriction, and the Fourth Circuit will hear a challenge from the refugee group. The Supreme Court's order Monday does not limit the options of the lower courts in ruling on the travel ban's constitutionality or legality.
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.