It’s been hard to know which way to turn this week.
Just when our attention was focused on the heartrending images of young children being separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Supreme Court this week delivered a one-two punch.
First, on June 26 the court ruled on First Amendment grounds that the State of California may not require anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to give women factual information about options to end their pregnancies, if that would conflict with the centers’ religious beliefs. The case is being returned to the lower courts for another look, but it seems unlikely that new evidence will be sufficient to change the SCOTUS ruling. The numbers of women who will give birth to unwanted children certainly will rise as a result, all because they lack access to crucial health information.
That same day, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban, which prohibits entry into the United States for people from five Muslim-majority nations, along with North Korea and Venezuela (only government officials from that country are subject to the ban).
Never mind that this third iteration of a travel ban, issued in September, includes two non-Muslim countries, vs. Trump’s January 2017 executive order that applied exclusively to Muslim-majority nations. Federal courts correctly overturned that order as discriminatory. One thinks that it would indicate to the Supreme Court that discrimination on national and religious grounds is also at the foundation of this latest executive order.
In fact, in their 5-4 ruling on June 26, the justices acknowledged the president’s history of anti-Muslim statements. And then, astonishingly, they said it doesn’t matter. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the president is within his legal rights to bar entry to any “class” of people on the grounds of national security — grounds that he may define on his own. “Quite apart from any religious hostility, we must accept that… justification,” Roberts wrote.
Legal experts warn that this ruling jeopardizes the separation of powers that preserves our democracy, expanding presidential authority dangerously at the expense of judicial review.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said as much in her dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing that the court’s ruling chips away at constitutional protections against religious discrimination. It is, she writes, a “gravely wrong” decision. We agree.