The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of President Donald Trump's travel ban Thursday, ruling that extended family members such as grandparents are exempt from the ban, as well as a certain class of refugees, while the legality of the ban is under review.
The ruling from a three-judge panel changes the status quo, as it allows a group of refugees with contractual commitments from resettlement organizations to come into the country. The ruling will take effect in five days, the appeals court specified.
The case stems from a Supreme Court order back in June. In that order, the justices allowed the travel ban to go into effect pending appeal -- which will be heard October 10 -- except as it applies to those individuals with a "bona fide" relationship with the United States.
The travel ban bars people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US.
Almost as soon as the order was issued, parties from both sides scurried back to court seeking clarification of the exact meaning of a "bona fide" relationship.
Challengers to the travel ban, including lawyers for the state of Hawaii, argued that the Supreme Court did not mean for the ban to extend to some family members such as grandparents, or to a category of refugees that have a contractual commitment from resettlement organizations.
Lawyers for the Trump administration, on the other hand, argued that the challengers read the Supreme Court ruling too broadly.
The three judges hearing the case, Michael Hawkins, Ronald Gould and Richard Paez, who were all nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton, were skeptical of the administration's arguments.
"The Government does not meaningfully argue how grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States can be considered to have 'no connection' to or 'lack any bona fide relationship' with persons in the United States," the judges wrote.
They also said that refugees in this case would be "in vulnerable limbo" in the meantime without action.
"Refugees have only a narrow window of time to complete their travel, as certain security and medical checks expire and must then be reinitiated. Even short delays may prolong a refugee's admittance," the judges wrote.
"Today's unanimous ruling is another big loss in court for the Trump administration on the travel ban," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and law professor at the University of Texas. "The Supreme Court's interim June ruling had created ambiguity about who the ban could still apply to pending the court's full consideration of the case, but the Ninth Circuit held that the government was wrong to resolve that ambiguity against grandparents and refugees with prior connections to the United States. It's only a small change to the status quo legally, but it's a big slap in the face to the government for so badly misreading the Supreme Court's June decision."