The US Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Trump's travel ban, infamously known as the “Muslim Ban”, will have far reaching impacts, both domestic and international. On Monday, the highest court, in a 5 to 4 split, ruled in favour of the administration's policy which restricts entry from seven countries to varying degrees. These countries are Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela. The ban also affects refugee resettlement programmes.
Had we not known the background of the original executive order and the vitriolic Islamophobic statements of candidate Trump, this could have been viewed as a matter of executive privilege. We could conclude that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has simply upheld the President's “executive power” to control entry of non-immigrant individuals to the US. We could have agreed with Chief Justice Roberts that “The Proclamation is squarely within the scope of Presidential authority.” But the issue at hand is more than an executive power issue.
The third iteration of the order, which now has the seal of approval from the SCOTUS, may have a different language in it, but its intent is exactly what was behind the first executive order issued on January 27, 2018. Considered with his other xenophobic statements, vilification of immigrants and utter disrespect for people of colour, the intention was/is as clear as it could be: creating “us” versus “them”. It's not only shutting the door of the United States to those who are yet to arrive, but also sends a clear message to those who are in the United States, who are making contributions to the country every day and even to those who have sacrificed their lives for their adopted home. The message is loud and clear: you're not welcome to the land of immigrants, and you will be judged by your race, by your religion, by your origin.
This is exactly what the establishment clause of the US constitution forbids—discrimination based on religion. Farhana Khera, executive director of the group Muslim Advocates, told The Washington Post, that the Supreme Court “has given a green light to religious discrimination and animus.” There is a palpable feeling among many Muslims that in a single stroke of the SCOTUS they are made second-class citizens. There is no doubt that this ruling will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court's great failures, as noted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, has correctly drawn parallels between this and the opinion which blessed the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1944.
The international implication is that the global community will know that the US is no longer the ideal of inclusiveness. The rulers of various countries who are thriving on divisiveness will not miss this point. Minorities—religious or ideological, of the countries where dictators are having a field day—will have to bear the brunt of this attitude. Indeed, President Trump's fascination for the “strongmen” and this message go hand in hand.
The second implication will be its potential future use. One interpretation of the ruling is that now the president will be able to impose such bans on any country. Will this ruling be used as a “blank cheque”? Which country will be next? What purposes would this be used for? Given the unpredictable nature of Trump, it is anybody's guess. As Trump has a penchant for bullying, will it be used when a country will express disagreement with the US? Remember that President Trump did threaten to retaliate after a vote in the UNGA: “we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit”, he said. The court says, the ban will be applicable to those “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The ACLU insists that the verdict only allows “the narrowest” ban, but some fear that the administration will go beyond what has been approved.
The most immediate domestic implication is the victory lap of Trump and his supporters: “we won”. But that's pale compared to what's coming next. With this victory, and the recent “zero-tolerance” policy resulting in family separation, Trump has set the agenda for the midterm election. These are the issues which galvanise Trump's base and keep the so-called traditional GOP silent. These are red meat for the Trump supporters. The brutal policy of family separation had to be stopped in the face of national and global outrage but Trumpites will spin it otherwise—Trump was tough but couldn't do it because of the Democrats/liberals. Therefore, they will say, a battered Trump needs more support. It may not be said in such words, but it may well be implied in the coming days that President Trump has saved America from Muslim “infestation” and tried to cleanse the nation of “unwanted Mexicans”. Whatever he has achieved, for example the travel ban, is because of the SCOTUS. It was made possible because Obama's nominee was not confirmed by the congress in 2016. In view of Trump supporters, more Trump-likes should be in Congress so that more conservative justices can be appointed to the courts, if opportunities arise.
It won't be an exaggeration to say that Islamophobia and xenophobia will be the issues at the front and centre of the midterm. The question is whether Democrats are ready to take up these issues head-on.
Ali Riaz is a distinguished professor of political science at the Illinois State University, USA.