WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a federal court judge's order expanding the number of immigrants from six Muslim-majority nations who can enter the country under President Trump's temporary travel ban.
The justices refused the administration's request that they clarify their June 26 decision allowing the travel ban to take effect, except for close relatives of U.S. citizens and refugees with a direct connection to resettlement agencies.
That means federal District Judge Derrick Watson's decision allowing more distant relatives, such as grandparents, to enter the U.S. under the travel ban will stand for the time being.
But at the same time, the justices blocked Watson's ruling that expanded the number of international refugees allowed to enter under the ban. And it sent the entire matter to a federal appeals court for resolution.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch would have blocked Watson's ruling from taking effect for both immigrants and refugees. That would have upheld the administration's original interpretation of the court's June 26 decision.
The travel ban went into effect June 29 following the high court's ruling. It restricts travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, and limits all refugee admissions for 120 days.
The justices previously agreed to decide the overall legality of the ban in the fall, while allowing the scaled-down version to go into effect. The court ruled that travelers from the six targeted countries can bypass the travel ban and enter the U.S. if they can prove they have a "bona fide" relationship with a U.S. person or entity.
The Trump administration defined that close relationship as immediate relatives, including spouses, children, parents, fiancés and fiancées. Watson, who sits in Hawaii, later ordered the list expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws.
The administration also ruled that only refugees personally matched with a resettlement agency in the U.S. could enter. But Watson disagreed and ordered officials to allow more refugees in. The high court sided with the administration on that score, pending further review by the appeals court.
Critics of Trump's travel ban were pleased that the Supreme Court allowed for an expanded definition of family that will allow more foreigners to bypass the travel ban and enter the U.S. But they said the ruling will hit hardest among refugees who have already been forced from their countries and are struggling to find a home.
"This ruling jeopardizes the safety of thousands of people across the world including vulnerable families fleeing war and violence," Naureen Shah of Amnesty International USA said. "This prolonged legal battle is creating further distress and confusion for ordinary people who need to visit the U.S. to get medical attention, reunite with family or get an education."