WASHINGTON — The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court late Thursday to revive its revised ban that limits travelers visiting the United States from six mostly Muslim countries.
The move sets the stage for a constitutional showdown over the president’s authority to make national security judgments in the name of protecting Americans from terrorism.
Last week, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., said President Trump’s travel ban was a product of religious animus and intolerance, and so violated the First Amendment. Mr. Trump’s national security justifications for the ban, that court said, were a pretext for the religious discrimination suggested by his campaign rhetoric, including his pledge to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit split along ideological lines in its 10-to-3 decision, with its three Republican appointees in dissent. Shortly after the decision was issued, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In its brief filed late Thursday asking the Supreme Court to consider the case, the Trump administration said the question for the justices was momentous.
It added that the appeals court had gone badly astray.
“The court did not dispute that the president acted at the height of his powers in instituting” the executive order’s “temporary pause on entry by nationals from certain countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism,” the brief said. The brief also said the order’s “text and operation are religion-neutral.”
The Supreme Court is back at full strength with the appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to fill a seat left vacant for more than a year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The new case will be an early indication of how Justice Gorsuch affects the balance of power on the court.
In its brief, the Trump administration urged the court to place law above politics.
“This order has been the subject of passionate political debate,” the brief said. “But whatever one’s views, the precedent set by this case for the judiciary’s proper role in reviewing the president’s national security and immigration authority will transcend this debate, this order, and this constitutional moment.
“Precisely in cases that spark such intense feelings, it is all the more critical to adhere to foundational legal rules,” the brief said. It said the lower court ruling “departs from those rules, and calls into question the executive and his authority in a way that warrants this court’s review.”
Omar Jadwat, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents people and groups challenging the ban, said the Supreme Court should let the appeals court decision stand.