The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily restored part of President Trump's travel ban, potentially blocking up to 24,000 refugees from being able to enter the U.S.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, acting on a request from the Justice Department, stayed a ruling issued last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Mr. Trump had drawn too tight a circle in deciding who was exempt from the travel ban.
His ruling allows the Trump administration's halt on refugee admissions to take effect, even as the high court considers the case more fully. He ordered the travel ban opponents to file their briefs by noon Tuesday.
The ruling is a small victory for the Trump administration, which has been battling to defend the March executive order intended to pause all admissions from six countries identified as high risks for terrorist travel, and which also called for a 120-day halt in refugee admissions.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration could not enforce the ban against people who have a "bona fide" relationship with people or entities in the United States. But the justices declined to define what constituted such a close relationship.
But the 9th Circuit opinion found that refugees who have been assigned to resettlement agencies had established enough of a "relationship" with a U.S. entity to qualify for a waiver from the ban. The decision, which was set to take effect Tuesday, could have paved the way for about 24,000 refugees to enter the U.S.
Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall, in his request for a stay on Monday, said the "refugee-resettlement agencies' assurance agreements are with the federal government and do not establish any relationship 'with a particular person seeking to enter the country as a refugee.'"
The federal government has already been allowing refugees into the country who have close family members here, but Mr. Wall wrote that allowing in refugees who have only assurances from resettlement agencies "would upend the status quo and do far greater harm to the national interest."
While the Justice Department challenges the refugee restrictions, Mr. Wall said they disagreed with - but wouldn't immediately challenge - another part of the 9th Circuit's decision that said grandparents, nieces, nephews and cousins of people already in the U.S. should be exempted from the travel ban because they are considered to have a "close" enough relationship.
Courts across the country have considered various portions of the travel ban, and Monday's decision by Justice Kennedy is not the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in - nor will it be the last.
Mr. Trump's travel ban called for a 90-day halt in admissions to the U.S. of visitors and immigrants from six majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also called for the 120-day total halt on refugee admissions.
Critics contended the policy was meant to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and lawsuits were filed across the country to fight various portions of the ban. As judges reviewed and ruled on the policy, the scope of the travel ban has changed.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, one of the chief legal opponents of the travel ban, claimed victory Monday after the Justice Department declined to challenge the broader definition of families.
"The Trump administration has ended its odd and ill-advised quest to ban grandmas from the country," Mr. Chin said in a statement. "With respect to the admission to the United States of refugees with formal assurances and the Supreme Court's temporary stay order, each day matters. We will respond very soon to DOJ's filing."
The 90-day country ban is slated to expire later in September, or just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to take up the case with oral argument on Oct. 10.
Hawaii on Monday filed its brief for the Oct. 10 hearing, with attorneys writing that Mr. Trump issued an order "that exceeds his authority under the immigration laws and transgresses the boundaries of the Establishment Clause."
"In defending that order, the President claims authority 'parallel to Congress's' to make 'federal law' with respect to immigration, insists that the courts owe him complete 'deference [as] the Executive,' and declares his decisions wholly 'immune from judicial control," Hawaii's attorneys wrote. "That breathtaking assertion of presidential power is irreconcilable with our constitutional framework."