Opponents of President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and visitors from six mostly Muslim countries are urging the Supreme Court to leave in place a federal judge's order that would relax restrictions on entry into the United States.
The lead challengers say in a high court filing Tuesday that the administration's argument in favor of a broader travel ban that excludes grandparents and grandchildren is "nonsense." Up to 24,000 refugees could be affected by the Supreme Court's decision.
The administration is appealing a ruling from U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson that requires the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States. Watson also vastly expanded the family relations that refugees and visitors can use to get into the country.
Last month, the justices allowed the administration to partially reinstate a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees from anywhere in the world.
But the court's ruling exempted a large swath of refugees and travelers with a "bona fide relationship" with a person or an entity in the U.S. The justices did not define those relationships but said they could include a close relative, a job offer or admission to a college or university.
The Trump administration then defined the relationships as people who had a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S. It also said that refugee resettlement agencies didn't count because their relationships are with the government, not the refugees.
But Hawaii and other travel plan opponents went back to court to seek a broader list of relations and groups that might be used to allow people to get into the country.
Watson issued his order last week, including grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. He also included charitable and religious groups that are working to resettle refugees in the U.S.
In its appeal Friday night, the Justice Department said Watson's interpretation of the Supreme Court's ruling on what family relationships qualify "empties the court's decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just 'close' family members, but virtually all family members. Treating all of these relationships as 'close familial relationship(s)' reads the term 'close' out of the Court's decision."
Hawaii's high court filing said Watson "faithfully applied" the Supreme Court's ruling, and allows the government to enforce the ban against countless residents of the six countries and roughly 175,000 refugees who do not have the required relationship with a relative or organization in the U.S.
More than 40 former U.S. officials, including former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John Kerry, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta, filed a separate legal brief in support of Hawaii.
The justices already have scheduled arguments about the travel ban for October. They could rule anytime on the rules for enforcing the ban.