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A federal judge has expanded the list of family members allowed to travel to the U.S. from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long for the Supreme Court’s decision on President Trump’s travel ban to reach the … Supreme Court. 

But the latest battle isn’t over whether travelers from predominantly Muslim nations can be barred from entering the United States, or which countries are included. It’s about picking and choosing who can get in and who must stay out.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas predicted this next round of court battles on June 26, when the high court partially restored the controversial travel ban after a series of lower court decisions against it. The justices said only immigrants and refugees with a “bona fide” connection to the U.S. can be exempt.

“The compromise … will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved,” Thomas wrote.

Federal district court Judge Derrick Watson ruled Thursday that the Trump administration was “unduly restrictive” in implementing the ban by allowing only spouses, children, parents, siblings, fiancés and in-laws. Watson opened the door to grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and siblings-in-law.

And while the administration decided only refugees already in contact with resettlement agencies could enter, Watson’s ruling would allow for more.

That led the Justice Department to ask Friday night for the Supreme Court’s “immediate intervention” in the case, just 18 days after it blocked lower court rulings that put the travel ban on hold. 

“Only this court can definitively settle whether the government’s reasonable implementation is consistent with this court’s stay,” the government argued.

The court also had accepted the case for a more complete oral argument in the fall, in order to decide whether it violates the Constitution’s protection of religion by targeting Muslims. That case, however, could become moot if the administration concludes its vetting procedures this summer.

Watson’s ruling on travelers from six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just close family members, but virtually all family members,” the government said in seeking the justices’ intervention.