The Trump administration on Thursday petitioned the Supreme Court to review its contentious travel ban, a move that could set up a high-stakes final verdict on a policy to restrict immigration from several Muslim-majority nations that has so far been stymied in several lower court decisions.
“We have asked the Supreme Court to hear this important case and are confident that President Trump's executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the Nation safe and protect our communities from terrorism," Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement released Thursday night. "The President is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States."
After news of the petition broke, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson tweeted, "Federal judges at all levels repeatedly and consitently agree with my argument that President Trump's illegal and unconstituional travel ban cannot go into effect. I am confident the Supreme Court will agree."
The Justice Department petition comes after the latest setback for Trump's controversial executive order to temporarily restrict immigration from Somalia, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit declined to lift an existing lower court ban on the administration's revised travel ban.
In order to hear the case, the Supreme Court would now have to grant certioari -- or accept the case -- by having four of its nine justices to vote in the affirmative.
The 4th Circuit's decision applied to the Trump administration's revised version of an initial ban, which had originally included Iraq and also banned American green card holders from the listed countries from returning to the U.S. The first order was shot down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, after which the Trump administration issued a slightly narrower order.
The 4th Circuit heard the case on that revised executive order en banc, with all of the circuit's judges, a rare step reserved for cases determined to be of exceptional importance. Typically, a case before the court of appeals is heard by three judges and can be reheard by those judges or en banc after the initial decision is handed down.
The 4th Circuit's Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote that the government's "asserted national security interest ... appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country."
After that court's decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would lodge an appeal with the high court.
In addition to asking the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit's decision, the administration is requesting a stay of that court's decision in the meantime -- which would require five affirmative votes in the Supreme Court. Thursday's petition also asks for a separate stay in a Hawaii district court opinion that rejected a separate aspect of Trump's order. That case is currently awaiting an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.