A month before the Supreme Court is to hear arguments in the travel ban case, it temporarily allowed the administration to bar many refugees.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily allowed the Trump administration to stop some 24,000 refugees from entering the United States while the court considers broad challenges to the administration’s revised travel ban.
The court’s brief order effectively reversed part of an appeals court ruling that had lifted the travel ban’s restrictions on the nation’s refugee program. There were no noted dissents.
The appeals court had also rejected the administration’s efforts to bar travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim countries by people with grandparents, uncles, aunts and other relatives here. The administration did not challenge that part of the appeals court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court did not address it.
The court will hear arguments on the lawfulness of the travel ban on Oct. 10. Tuesday’s order was the latest in a series of interim measures interpreting statements in a June ruling in which the court agreed to hear the case. In the meantime, the court temporarily reinstated the travel ban — but only for people without “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
The meaning of that phrase has been contested ever since. The court did not specify which relatives qualified, for instance, but it did say that spouses and mothers-in-law “clearly” counted.
“As for entities, ” the court said, “the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading” the executive order. It gave examples: students admitted to American universities qualified, as did workers with job offers from American companies and lecturers invited to address American audiences.
On the other hand, the court said, relationships formed for the purpose of evading the travel ban did not count.
The Trump administration interpreted both parts of the June ruling narrowly. It said that only some relatives of American residents — parents, children, spouses, siblings, parents-in-law, sons- and daughters-in-law and people engaged to be married — could enter. The administration barred other relatives, including grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins.
The administration also said that relationships between refugees and resettlement agencies were too attenuated to qualify for an exception to the ban because the arrangements had been made by an intermediary: the government.
In July, Judge Derrick K. Watson of United States District Court in Honolulu disagreed with the administration’s interpretation on both points. “Common sense, ” he said, for instance, required grandparents to qualify as close relatives.
Judge Watson also ruled in favor of those refugees whom resettlement agencies were prepared to assist.
“An assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency, in fact, meets each of the Supreme Court’s touchstones, ” he wrote. “It is formal, it is a documented contract, it is binding, it triggers responsibilities and obligations, including compensation, it is issued specific to an individual refugee only when that refugee has been approved for entry by the Department of Homeland Security.”
A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting in Seattle, agreed on both points. At the Supreme Court, the government challenged only the part of the appeals court’s ruling concerning refugees, arguing that there is no direct connection between refugees and resettlement agencies.
“The absence of a formal connection between a resettlement agency and a refugee subject to an assurance stands in stark contrast to the sort of relationships this court identified as sufficient in its June 26 stay ruling, ” the government’s brief said. “Unlike students who have been admitted to study at an American university, workers who have accepted jobs at an American company, and lecturers who come to speak to an American audience, refugees do not have any free-standing connection to resettlement agencies, separate and apart from the refugee-admissions process itself, by virtue of the agencies’ assurance agreement with the government.”
In response, lawyers for Hawaii, which is challenging the travel ban, said the administration was mistaking form for substance.
“One would not, for example, ” the brief said, “deny the existence of a ‘relationship’ between a couple and the child they plan to adopt from overseas, even though the couple has not had ‘direct contact’ with the child, and even though the only formal agreement is between the couple and the adoption agency.”
On Monday, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy temporarily blocked the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which would have gone into effect on Tuesday. The order from the full court on Tuesday supplanted that temporary measure.