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Version 2.0 of President Donald Trump’s travel ban was written to solve a specific problem: The federal courts were poised to hold the first version unconstitutional. But it’s not at all clear that the new order will survive judicial scrutiny, either.
Yes, Monday’s revised executive order suspending the entry of refugees and restricting entry by people from six Middle Eastern countries is more carefully crafted than its Jan. 26 predecessor. Some of the changes, like the exemptions for children and for people who already have visas, will likely obviate some constitutional objections to the earlier order.
But the darkest constitutional shadow hanging over the first travel ban hangs over the second one as well. If the current order is motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice, it violates constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection of the laws, or both.
To be sure, it would be highly unusual for the courts to strike down an executive order as purposefully discriminatory. For one thing, federal courts almost never strike down any sort of federal enactment on that ground, if only because federal courts—composed of people nominated by presidents and confirmed by senators—tend to have roughly the same mainstream intuitions about what counts as objectionable discrimination that the federal government’s lawmakers have. (The laws that get struck down as purposefully discriminatory are overwhelmingly state laws, usually from states where the relevant norms don’t quite line up with nationally predominant intuitions.)
Courts are also loath to second-guess executive branch decisions in the realms of national security and foreign affairs. But everything about this case is already highly unusual. The order’s history betrays the discriminatory purposes that today’s revised version is intended to conceal, and some of the new order’s particular content points in the same direction. As the courts will surely understand.