The US Justice Department on Friday asked the Supreme Court to block a federal judge's ruling weakening President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority nations by exempting grandparents of US citizens and refugees already being processed by resettlement agencies.
In a court filing, the administration asked the justices to overturn Thursday's decision by a US district judge in Hawaii, which limited the scope of the administration's temporary ban on refugees and travellers from six Muslim-majority countries.
The Supreme Court, considered to be Conservative-leaning, is currently not in session, but can take emergency cases.
US District Judge Derrick Watson this week had ordered the Trump administration not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the US.
"Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents," Watson said in his ruling.
Watson had also ruled that the government may not exclude refugees who have formal assurance from a resettlement agency in the US.
Opposing the Hawaii court ruling, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the district court has issued decisions that are entrusted to the executive branch, undermined national security, delayed necessary action, created confusion, and violated a proper respect for separation of powers.
"Once again, we are faced with a situation in which a single federal district court has undertaken by a nationwide injunction to micromanage decisions of the co-equal executive branch related to our national security," he argued.
Sessions alleged that by its decision, the district court had "improperly substituted" its policy preferences for the national security judgements of the executive branch in a time of grave threats, defying both the lawful prerogatives of the executive branch and the directive of the Supreme Court.
Following Sessions remarks, the Department of Justice approached the Supreme Court to overturn the Hawaii judge order.
The latest round in the fight over Trump's 6 March executive order came after the Supreme Court last month allowed a scaled-back version of the ban to go into effect before it hears the case in October, exempting visa applicants from the ban if they can prove a "bona fide" relationship with a US citizen.
The Supreme Court's ruling had allowed a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and a 120-day ban on refugees to come into force.
The administration had narrowly interpreted the court's language, saying the ban would apply to grandparents and other family members, prompting the state of Hawaii to ask Hawaii-based US District Judge Derrick Watson to expand the definition of who could be admitted. He ruled for the state late on Thursday.
In the court filing, the Justice Department said the judge's ruling "empties the (Supreme) Court's decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just "close" family members but virtually all family members.
The administration's latest appeal could be directed either to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has responsibility for emergency requests from western states, or to the nine justices as a whole. If the court as a whole is asked to weigh in, five votes are needed to grant such a request.