The case against President Trump’s travel ban, like a lingering illness, seems to have been with us forever, but is just celebrating its first birthday. Now that the Supreme Court has accepted one of the two challenges to the order, the end is in sight.
The Court on January 19 announced it would consider Trump v. Hawaii, the challenge heard in the District of Hawaii and then the Ninth Circuit. But its order also included a request for the parties to brief the Court on a legal issue not considered in those cases: Whether the latest order, dated September 24, violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on “an establishment of religion.”
What does this briefing order mean? Probably only that the Court wants to hear this stinker of a case once and only once. The establishment issue is not formally before the Court, but it’s out there lurking in a second challenge to the ban, still pending in the Fourth Circuit. In an earlier case challenging Travel Ban 2.0, that appeals court had held in broad terms that the earlier ban “likely” violated the Establishment Clause; it may very well hold the same this time.
In an interview, Professor Ira C. Lupu of George Washington University Law School attributed the order to a desire “to resolve all the challenges” at one time. The establishment question, he pointed, out, has “certainly been briefed on both sides.” Better to decide it now.