The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear arguments in April, and issue a ruling by the end of June, as to whether President Donald J. Trump’s travel restriction policy violates federal immigration law or the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on religious discrimination.

President Trump’s latest travel ban targets six Muslim-majority countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Announced in September, it prevents people coming from the restricted countries to enter the United States. The ban also covered people from North Korea and certain Venezuelan government officials, but lower courts have already allowed those restrictions to go into effect.

Reuters reportsThe legal fight involves the third version of a contentious policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017. The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it was likely to uphold the ban when, on a 7-2 vote, it let it go into full effect while legal challenges by the state of Hawaii and others continued. Lower courts had partially blocked the ban.

The Republican president has said the policy is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by Islamic militants. Those challenging the travel ban have argued that it was motivated by Trump’s [alleged] enmity toward Muslims. 

The case represents a high-profile test of presidential powers. In court papers, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, arguing for the Trump administration, said the president has “broad authority to suspend or restrict the entry of aliens outside the United States when he deems it in the nation’s interest.”

The latest ban was introduced on Sept. 24 after what Francisco called an “extensive, worldwide review” to determine which foreign governments provide information required by the United States to vet those seeking entry. The countries on the list are those that do not share that information or present “other heightened risk factors,” Francisco said.

Hawaii’s lead lawyer, Neal Katyal, said in court papers that the president has only limited authority to exclude entry of people from other countries. Under a U.S. law called the Immigration and Nationality Act, a president can restrict entry only of those deemed a potential threat or in certain emergency situations. The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality. The law does not “surrender to the president a boundless authority to set the rules of entry and override the immigration laws at will,” Katyal said in court papers.

Courts in Seattle and Maryland have also ruled the current ban unlawful, prompting the administration to appeal. The American Civil Liberties Union has pursued a separate legal challenge, filed in Maryland, which is now before the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Timeline of Trump’s travel restrictions. Source: Reuters