On Thursday, July 13, the Hon. Derrick Watson, U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii, modified the Trump administration’s ban on entry into the United States by the nationals of six designated countries.

In doing so, Judge Watson was interpreting the vague language of a Supreme Court per curiam order. That June 26 order addressed various challenges to Trump’s underlying March 6th executive order and found   found that foreign nationals with a “close familial relationship” with U.S. residents must be regarded, pending further proceedings, as outside the scope of President Trump’s executive order. But  the Justices said nothing more precise about the relationships involved. How close is “close”?

It was pretty clear at the time that the Justices were inviting further litigation as to what were the relevant family ties.

On Friday, July 14, the federal government responded to the decision in Hawaii the day before by asking the Supreme Court to re-visit the matter, clarifying what counts as a close familial relationship, “a legal question that only this Court can authoritatively resolve.”

The administration’s view of close family includes spouses, children and parents, spouses of children or parents, and siblings, but it doesn’t include grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, or siblings-in-law. Watson’s order tells the government that it must take a broader view of the relevant family ties.

Left Wing View

On the Left, there is some glee that the anti-Trump “resistance” can now take on the mantle of grandparental love.

Judge Watson’s words on point are striking and have been frequently quoted: “Common sense … dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”

Laurence Tribe, professor of law at Harvard Law, [and a man who, though born in the French Concession of Shanghai, China, has made his life and career in the U.S. and has argued dozens of cases before the United States Supreme Court], tweeted simply: “Grandparents rejoice.”

Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General for the State of New York and a longtime foe of Donald Trump, similarly, wrote, “Grandparents are family, I’m glad the courts agreed.”


Beyond celebrating the broadened notion of ‘family,’ leftward reaction to the Hawaii ruling celebrates the fact that something that initially looked like a Trump administration win, and that was celebrated by that administration itself as a win, now looks a lot like a defeat.

Vox, in the subhead of an article by Dara Lind, summarized the course of the litigation thus far as well as anyone has in 15 words: “The government’s attempt to enforce parts of its travel ban gets whittled down even further.” In the article proper, Lind completes the image.

The ban has been whittled down “to a sliver,” he writes, triumphantly.

Right Wing View

Public responses to the latest twists in this litigation break down along predictable left/right lines. If you believe that the travel ban is warranted, you’ll want it interpreted broadly, and so you’ll want the exceptions interpreted narrowly. If you are opposed to or suspicious of the ban as a whole, you’ll correspondingly favor the broadest possible set of exceptions to its scope.

John Betts’s tweet was thus fairly typical of right-of-center responses.


Rightward pundits make the observation that Judge Watson is an appointee of former President Barack Obama. From this they conclude that his interpretation of the Supreme Court’s order is a matter of “playing President” and striking down the legitimate actions of the current and rightful President. “He should have known better,” says a tweet:

Coda: Confusion

Since the latest developments from Hawaii coincided with the visit to the U.S. of an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan, there has been some confusion in social media about whether those girls have arrived by virtue of some exemption to the travel ban. As a matter of simple fact, they have not. Afghanistan is not one of the six countries reference in the March Executive Order creating the ban (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.)