Whether or not you agree with any of President Trump’s actions during just his first week in office, it should now be evident that he fully intends to pursue many of the promises he made on the campaign trail. With the stroke of a pen and the power of his office, President Trump signed an executive order stipulating that “stricter vetting” and “travel bans” will be placed on those whom are traveling from or are nationals of seven predominately Muslim nations. The backlash against the order has been vociferous as well as swift.
These actions, regardless of their moral rectitude or lack thereof, raise serious, pressing constitutional questions that have the potential to define the United States for a generation. To what extent can the United States government, or simply the president, enforce strict immigration measures? Is it legal or even reasonable to specifically target Muslims in an effort to ensure national security? Does religious freedom apply to all faiths, or just to those that are less likely to make people frightened or uncomfortable?
The primary focus over the next few weeks, or months, or even years will be on the Trump administration, those who oppose it, and those who are clearly affected by the policies that will be implemented; however, the reach of these policies as well as there ability to be sustained as law will be determined not by catchy protest chants or by Sean Spicer’s increasingly uncomfortable press briefings, but by the legal judgments of the American judiciary. So far, the Trump administration has suffered temporary setbacks from federal judges who have ordered “temporary stays,” believing that the now labeled “Muslim Ban” deserves strict judicial scrutiny before it can be accepted as the law of the land. Before we know it, the American Civil Liberties Union and dozens of other advocacy group will be fighting in courtrooms across the country to overturn what they ardently believe to be a gross injustice inflicted upon Muslims and refugees. Eventually, the debate is likely to reach the steps of the nation’s highest court.
If these particular cases, or something similar, make their ostensibly inevitable journey to the Supreme Court, the United States could be subject to the most significant challenge to the constitution in decades. Notably, it will be interesting to see how the upcoming political battle involving Scalia’s former seat will eventually impact policies such as the “Muslim Ban.” President Trump plans to announce his nominee for the highest court in the land tomorrow night. As expected, the legality of the “Muslim Ban” as well as other constitutional issues will revolve closely around whomever is picked.
Now, although throughout this post I have tried, for better or for worse, to be largely impartial in processing the complicated times that lie ahead, I would like to speak to what this “Muslim Ban” means not only as a constitutional challenge, but as an American one: If this order and all or most of its components are allowed to survive and continue, it will be impossible to say that the United States is a nation of immigrants; it will be impossible to say that the United States is a nation of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free”; it will, most tragically, be impossible to say that we are a nation of core and reliable constitutional principles. The establishment clause and the first amendment are clear, as are the characteristics of religious tolerance and a devotion to liberty that supposedly make our nation supreme in the eyes of the world, as well as ourselves. If these bedrock laws and essential principles are not unequivocally adhered to, or even worse overturned, then it will be easy to say that they never truly existed in the first place.