Trump v. Hawaii

138 S.Ct. 2392 (2018)

Quick Summary

President Trump (defendant) faced a legal challenge from the State of Hawaii (plaintiff) over a Proclamation restricting entry from certain countries. The dispute centered on whether this Proclamation exceeded presidential authority and violated constitutional principles related to religious discrimination.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Trump, determining his actions were within his executive powers regarding national security and immigration. The Court also found no violation of the Establishment Clause, concluding that the policy was based on legitimate concerns rather than religious bias.

Facts of the Case

President Donald Trump (defendant) issued a Proclamation with the intent to improve vetting procedures for foreign nationals entering the United States. The Proclamation imposed entry restrictions on nationals from eight countries that were deemed to have inadequate information-sharing practices, thus presenting a potential security threat.

The State of Hawaii (plaintiff), along with other plaintiffs, challenged the Proclamation, arguing that it violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment due to perceived animus towards Islam.

The Proclamation was the result of a worldwide review process that established a baseline for information required from foreign governments regarding their nationals seeking entry into the United States. It affected countries previously identified as posing heightened risks or with deficient practices in information sharing, and included exemptions, waivers, and a continuous assessment process.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. President Trump issued an executive order suspending entry from seven countries, which was blocked by a federal district court.
  2. The President signed a second order, which was also legally challenged and preliminary injunctions were issued by several district courts.
  3. The Supreme Court granted certiorari but vacated the lower decisions as moot after the temporary restrictions expired.
  4. Following a global review of countries’ information-sharing practices, President Trump issued the Proclamation which was then challenged by the State of Hawaii.
  5. The district court granted a nationwide preliminary injunction against the Proclamation, which was affirmed by the appeals court.
  6. The case was brought before the Supreme Court for final adjudication.

I.R.A.C. Format


  • Whether the Proclamation issued by President Trump, imposing entry restrictions on nationals from certain countries, exceeds the scope of his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Whether it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Rule of Law

The President has broad discretion under § 1182(f) of the INA to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States when deemed detrimental to U.S. interests, and entry policies are subject to rational basis review under the Establishment Clause.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court determined that § 1182(f) grants significant deference to the President in matters of national security and foreign affairs, particularly in regulating the admission of aliens into the United States. The Proclamation’s detailed findings on the deficiencies in information sharing of certain countries justified its alignment with national interests.

Moreover, past historical practices supported the President’s authority to act on nationality-based distinctions when addressing national security concerns. In examining claims under the Establishment Clause, the Court assumed a stance that allowed for rational basis review.

This meant that as long as the government could provide a plausible justification for its actions that was not rooted in religious animus, it would be deemed constitutional. The Court found that the Proclamation did not exhibit hostility towards any religion, was based on legitimate national security goals, and included a system for waivers and exemptions which further indicated non-discriminatory intent.


The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and upheld the Proclamation. It concluded that President Trump lawfully exercised his broad discretion under § 1182(f) of the INA and that the Proclamation did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Dissenting Opinions

Justices Breyer and Kagan dissented, concerned about the application and enforcement of waiver provisions in practice.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, dissented on the grounds that the Proclamation was motivated by animus against Muslims and thus violated the Establishment Clause.

Key Takeaways

  1. The President has considerable discretion under § 1182(f) of the INA to restrict entry to aliens for national security purposes.
  2. Rational basis review is applicable when examining potential Establishment Clause violations in immigration policy.
  3. A Presidential Proclamation carrying nationality-based entry restrictions can be constitutional if it is justified by national security concerns and lacks religious animus.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What are the limits of executive authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act regarding national security?

The executive’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act is broad but not unlimited. The President can impose restrictions on the entry of aliens when it’s in the national interest, particularly for security reasons. However, any action must be consistent with the Constitution and other statutory constraints.

  • For example: An executive order closing borders to nationals from a specific country due to an ongoing war or epidemic may be valid, but blanket bans based on race or religion would likely be unconstitutional.

What is the rational basis review, and how does it apply to religious discrimination cases?

Rational basis review is a standard of judicial review that requires government actions to be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. In cases of alleged religious discrimination, if the government can show a plausible, secular purpose for its action, it typically will pass this level of scrutiny.

  • For example: A city zoning law might be challenged for targeting churches, but if the city demonstrates it’s meant to limit noise in residential areas, this could pass rational basis review.

What constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause in the context of immigration policy?

A violation of the Establishment Clause occurs when immigration policies are enacted that favor or disfavor one religion over others without a secular purpose. For a policy to withstand constitutional scrutiny, it must avoid religious entanglement or endorsement.

  • For example: A visa policy giving preference to one religious group over others for resettlement purposes could violate the Establishment Clause unless it serves a non-religious humanitarian goal.


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