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ARL Issues Statement on Supreme Court Decision Upholding Travel Ban

image CC-BY-NC-ND by Brian Auer

Today, in a deeply disappointing 5‑4 vote, the US Supreme Court upheld the Trump Administration travel ban. The ban, the third attempt by the Administration, places entry restrictions on nationals of seven countries, five of which have majority-Muslim populations. The Court affirmed the President’s wide ranging authority over national security matters and reversed lower court decisions.

In March 2018, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) joined with 22 other higher education associations and filed an amicus brief opposing the September 2017 Presidential Proclamation suspending immigration from eight countries—Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea, and Venezuela. (Chad was removed from the list in April 2018). The brief, led by the American Council on Education, explains the critical importance of the United States’ “deep commitment to ensuring the free flow of ideas and people that is critical to progress in a democratic society.” The associations also noted that the ban will “have detrimental effects on critical academic exchange by inhibiting the free cross‑border exchange of ideas; dividing students and scholars from their families; and impairing the ability of American educational institutions to draw the finest international talent.”

In today’s opinion, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, noted that the Court generally defers to the President’s authority on immigration matters. In evaluating the relevance of  Trump’s campaign statements and references to a “Muslim ban” by Administration officials, Roberts noted that the Court generally only looks at the order on its face and not at extrinsic statements. The majority found that even if the campaign statements were taken into account, the ban was not based on religion, because some of the Muslim-majority countries covered in a previous order were taken off the restricted list and the new order includes bans for non‑Muslim‑majority countries. The majority opinion also cites exceptions and waiver provisions, allowing the order to survive scrutiny.

Today’s decision ignores the deep ramifications of the discriminatory order. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor calls the order “policy now masquerad[ing] behind a facade of national‑security concerns” that “turns a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals. . . .” The Administration’s travel ban affects communities beyond those specifically targeted by creating a discriminatory climate based on religion and national origin. As Justice Sotomayor wrote, “this Court has long acknowledged that governmental actions that favor one religion ‘inevitabl[y]’ foster ‘the hatred, disrespect and even contempt of those who [hold] contrary beliefs’” because such acts send messages to members of minority faiths “‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’”

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise, promotes equity and diversity, and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.