In the 92 pages of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Trump v. Hawaii, handed down on Tuesday, families are mentioned 12 times. Relatives, seven times; parents, twice. The decision, which upholds President Trump’s order restricting travel and immigration to the United States from eight foreign countries, is the final word on a court case filed by a group of plaintiffs that included the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii, and “three individuals with foreign relatives affected by the entry suspension.” In both the majority and dissenting opinions, justices emphasize that the preservation of families is a priority—but they come to opposite conclusions about what that means for Trump’s order.
For the majority—the group including Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch—the order has sufficient provisions to protect the integrity of families. For the dissenters—Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the order threatens to imperil and divide families.
In the opening paragraphs of Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion, Roberts writes that the Court recognizes the dire nature of the situation for the three U.S. citizens and permanent residents separated from their Iranian, Syrian, and Yemeni relatives by the travel ban. “We agree that a person’s interest in being united with his relatives is sufficiently concrete and particularized to form the basis of an Article III injury in fact,” Roberts writes. He again relies on the importance of family preservation when he notes who is eligible to be granted exemption from the restrictions imposed by the travel ban. Roberts writes that there are provisions to waive the law’s entry restrictions for immigrants hoping to reunite with family members already in the United States: A passage describing the scope of President Trump’s “Proclamation No. 9645, Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats” gestures twice at the fact that it has provisions for “when a waiver might be appropriate, such as if the foreign national seeks to reside with a close family member, obtain urgent medical care, or pursue significant business obligations.”