On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will take up the\u00a0travel ban\u00a0again.\r\nBut in the year since the Court\u00a0first examined the Trump administration\u2019s efforts to bar people from certain countries, most of them majority-Muslim, from entering the US, the ban and the landscape both look very different.\r\nWe\u2019re now on the\u00a0third version of Trump\u2019s travel ban\u00a0\u2014 the first was scuttled after it got thwarted by lower courts, and the second, allowed to go partially into effect by the\u00a0Supreme Court\u00a0last year, expired in September. The\u00a0current version, which prevents some (or all) immigrants, refugees, and visa holders from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen from entering the US, is designed to be permanent. The\u00a0travel ban has been in effect\u00a0in full since early December.\r\nThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against the current version of the ban (as it applies to the majority-Muslim countries) last November, but that ruling was\u00a0put on hold by the Supreme Court\u00a0until it had examined the case. Unless the Supreme Court acts to stop it, the ban will remain in effect indefinitely.\r\nThe widespread outrage and massive airport protests of the administration\u2019s first attempt at a\u00a0travel ban\u00a0back in January 2017 are long gone. In most respects, the current version of the ban, at this point, looks like a normal policy put in place by a normal president.\r\nIn the eyes of the Trump administration\u2019s critics, of course, that\u2019s exactly the wrong way to look at the travel ban. They believe it\u2019s obvious that this is just another attempt to satisfy Trump\u2019s 2015 campaign promise of a\u00a0\u201ctotal and complete shutdown\u201d\u00a0of Muslims entering the United States. And they see every evolution the ban has undergone since then, as a campaign proposal and then a presidential policy, as coat after coat of whitewash: putting a veneer of legality over a patently discriminatory idea.\r\nA year ago, the Supreme Court reversed a tide of defeats for the Trump administration by allowing an earlier version of the ban to go into effect in part. Now, it has the chance to hand the president his final victory \u2014 if the Court thinks he deserves it\r\nThe travel ban court battle has slowly turned in Trump\u2019s favor\r\nIt\u2019s been easy to get lost in the thicket of court cases around the travel ban. For one thing, there have been three different iterations of the ban. Additionally, there have been cases in two different circuits \u2014 the Fourth Circuit on the East Coast and the Ninth Circuit on the West Coast.\r\n\u00a0\r\nMost importantly, no lawsuit has gotten to the point of ruling on the legality or constitutionality of the ban itself. Instead, judges have been issuing preliminary injunctions to prevent the ban from going into effect while the case is pending, then having those injunctions upheld or stayed on appeal.\r\nThe best way to understand all this back-and-forth is to look at what policies the Trump administration has actually been allowed to put in place. From that perspective, the travel ban saga breaks down pretty easily into four distinct periods.\r\nA full ban for\u00a0seven\u00a0countries and all refugees: January 28, 2017,\u00a0to February 3, 2017.\u00a0On January 27, 2017, Trump signed the first\u00a0travel ban executive order, banning all people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days and nearly all refugees for 120 days. It went into effect (with little preparation or input from within the government) several hours later. This was the period of massive airport chaos and\u00a0giant spontaneous protests, as the Trump administration struggled to figure out how to implement the ban as it went along.\r\nNo ban: February 3, 2017,\u00a0to June 27, 2017.\u00a0On February 3, a federal judge in Washington state issued a\u00a0preliminary injunction\u00a0to stop enforcement of the ban while he weighed the merits of the case. The\u00a09inth Circuit Court of Appeals\u00a0upheld his ruling the next week.\r\nThe Trump administration, all but admitting defeat (even as they protested that\u00a0the ban was still legal), quietly moved to write a\u00a0new executive order\u00a0to replace the old one. That order, which dropped Iraq off the list of banned countries, was signed on March 6, 2017; its 90-day country-based ban and 120-day refugee ban were set to go into effect March 16, 2017.\r\nBut on the eve of its enactment, judges in\u00a0Hawaii\u00a0and\u00a0Maryland\u00a0ruled that it should be put on hold too, because it hadn\u2019t done enough to assuage the legal and constitutional concerns that the first version raised. Those holds were kept in place by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court.\r\nA ban \u2014 but only for people who lack a \u201cbona fide relationship\u201d to the United States: June 27, 2017,\u00a0to October 17, 2017; November 13, 2017,\u00a0to December 4, 2017.\u00a0The\u00a0Supreme Court\u00a0partly overruled lower courts in June 2017. It let the government start implementing the second version of the travel ban \u2014 but exempted anyone who had a \u201cbona fide relationship\u201d with a person or business in the United States. (In practice, this meant that most visa applicants from the countries named in the ban were allowed to enter, but most refugees were blocked.)\r\nIn September, with the 90-day country ban about to expire, the Trump administration rolled out a third iteration of the policy: an indefinite ban on some or all people trying to come to the US from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Which categories of people were banned varied by country: for some countries (like Syria) the ban applied to all would-be immigrants and visa holders, while for others (like Somalia) it only banned people seeking to immigrate to the US for good.\r\nInitially, the third version of the travel ban was\u00a0blocked completely (at least for the majority-Muslim countries) by a judge\u00a0on the eve of its enactment. In November, the\u00a0Ninth Circuit\u00a0(and the Fourth) decided to treat it the same way the Supreme Court had treated the second ban: to allow it to go into effect but to exempt people who had bona fide relationships in the US. (The bans on people from Venezuela and North Korea have been allowed to go into effect as planned.)\r\nA full ban for several countries: December 4, 2017,\u00a0to ???\u00a0In December, the\u00a0Supreme Court ruled\u00a0that the ban could go into effect in its entirety \u2014 with no automatic exemption for people with a \u201cbona fide relationship\u201d \u2014 until the Court itself got a chance to more fully consider the third version.\r\n\u00a0\r\nSince early December, the US has blocked an unknown number of people from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Venezuela from entering the US. (It dropped Chad from the list in March.) Individuals from banned countries are theoretically eligible for waivers, but in practice, waivers are few and far between. After one month of the full ban,\u00a0according to a Reuters report, 8,400 people had applied for waivers; after three months, about 100 waivers had been granted.\r\nThe Supreme Court\u00a0can\u00a0kick the can down the road on the travel ban one last time, by ruling on the preliminary injunctions but letting the lower court cases play out afterward. But it could just as easily rule directly on the legality and constitutionality of the travel ban once and for all.\r\nAnd because this version of the travel ban is written to last indefinitely \u2014 with review by the executive branch but not Congress or the courts \u2014 if the Court sides with Trump in this case, the travel ban will probably be around for as long as Trump is in office or longer.\r\nThis isn\u2019t the travel ban you remember from the airport protests of 2017\r\nIt\u2019s not a coincidence that the Trump administration has been more successful in court with each successive version of the ban. Each ruling against the first version of the ban was, in a way, a guide to what to avoid in the second; each ruling against the second offered tips for what to avoid in the third.\r\nThe list of countries whose nationals are currently banned from entering the US was determined, the government claims, after an interagency review of three things: whether IDs issued by the government met security standards; whether the government shared enough data with the US on suspected terrorists and safety threats; and whether the country was generally safe enough for the US to trust the people it sent. (Each of these broad factors was broken down into separate subfactors to check.)\r\n\u00a0\r\nCountries can be removed from the list if they demonstrate improvement (like Chad). Countries can, theoretically, be added. And individual waivers are theoretically available.\r\nThis policy has been in place for months, with very little public outcry. It\u2019s hard to deny that the Trump administration enters the Supreme Court on stronger footing with the ban than it ever has before. There\u2019s just one problem: Donald Trump.\r\nThe best argument against the travel ban\u2019s legality is Donald Trump\u2019s tweets\r\nWhenever the courts decide whether a policy is unconstitutionally prejudiced or discriminatory, there\u2019s a meta-question of what a judge is allowed to consider when making that decision: whether she\u2019s confined to the \u201cfour corners\u201d of the policy as written, or allowed to \u201clook behind\u201d it to its history and the rhetoric of its supporters and critics.\r\nNormally, that\u2019s a really difficult question \u2014 especially in areas, like immigration, where precedent says the courts need to defer to the executive branch. But normally, the chief executive didn\u2019t make an explicit campaign promise to discriminate based on religion and characterize his first version of the ban as doing just that. Looking at Trump\u2019s statements and tweets isn\u2019t necessarily \u201clooking behind\u201d the policy \u2014 they\u2019re right there in the open.\r\nAs much as the Trump\u00a0administration\u00a0has worked to differentiate each version of the travel ban, the president himself has kind of undermined its case. When the second version of the ban was struggling in court,\u00a0he complained\u00a0that he never should have changed the first one. When his administration challenged the use of \u201cban\u201d to describe the 90-day pause, he\u00a0proudly called it a ban.\r\nThat makes it very easy to see the third version of the travel ban as a descendant of the second and first. Indeed, it certainly seems curious that the interagency review ended up singling out almost the exact same countries that the Trump administration chose after only a few days in office, and that one of those countries \u2014 Somalia \u2014 actually passed\u00a0the test but was added to the ban anyway because of general terrorism concerns.\r\nBut the genealogy goes further: from the travel bans Trump has signed in office to his\u00a0promise on the campaign trail in summer 2016\u00a0to ban people from countries with a \u201cproven history of terrorism against the United States or our allies\u201d \u2014 and from there backward to the December 2015 statement that promised \u201ca total and complete shutdown\u201d of Muslims entering the United States.\r\nThe whole point of changing the \u201cMuslim ban\u201d to a\u00a0ban on immigrants from specific countries\u00a0was to make it more constitutionally defensible. But just as the policy language used to describe the ban changed, the president and his allies kept signaling that this was the same policy in different clothing \u2014 at one point admitting that this was\u00a0the Muslim ban made legal.\r\nThe establishment clause of the Constitution doesn\u2019t let people off the hook if they don\u2019t explicitly mention religion. But the court doesn\u2019t, as a matter of course, take campaign rhetoric into account when evaluating the constitutionality of a policy. Trump\u2019s defenders are right that doing so in this case could set a radical precedent. But the Supreme Court, as the\u00a0Washington Post\u2019s Robert Barnes\u00a0notes, may be torn between what it would do for a normal president \u2014 give him the benefit of the doubt \u2014 and the plain fact that this president has not shown he\u2019s capable of handling it.\r\nThe four questions the Supreme Court is trying to answer about the travel ban\r\nWhen the Supreme Court agrees to take a case, it sets out questions for each side to answer in their briefs. Wednesday\u2019s oral argument won\u2019t follow this structure, and it might not even address all of these questions, but this is how the justices will have to approach the case when they\u2019re writing their opinions.\r\n\u00a0\r\n1) Can a court even rule on this policy?\r\nThe Trump administration argues that it shouldn\u2019t even be in court defending the travel ban because it\u2019s not something courts are allowed to litigate. That\u2019s not as authoritarian as it might sound: There are specific rules for who is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of a policy and when they can do it.\r\nIndeed, as a general rule, people aren\u2019t allowed to sue the government over visa denials at all. The government argues that rule applies to this case. The critics argue it\u2019s an exception.\r\nEven when the Supreme Court has made exceptions and examined government visa decisions, though, it\u2019s said they can only be reviewed if the government can\u2019t offer a \u201cfacially legitimate and bona fide\u201d reason for the decision it made.\r\nThe Trump administration says that its concerns about security are a facially legitimate and bona fide reason; both appeals courts have strongly disagreed. But where you fall on this, of course, depends on whether you think the current version of the travel ban is a policy that should be seen on its own or as the latest iteration of a proposal first floated in December 2015.\r\n2) Is the travel ban legal?\r\nSection 1182(f) of the US Code (passed as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act) gives the executive branch the authority to suspend the entry of a class of aliens if the executive \u201cfinds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.\u201d\r\nFrom the Trump administration\u2019s perspective, that\u2019s exactly what they\u2019ve done with the travel ban.\r\nThe critics, and lower courts, think it\u2019s not that simple. In particular, they point to a later addition to the Immigration and Nationality Act \u2014 section 1152(a)(1)(A) \u2014 that prohibits the government from discriminating in immigration law on the basis of several traits, including nationality. The question of which clause trumps the other is central to the legality argument.\r\nLower courts have offered up plenty of other reasons why the travel ban isn\u2019t actually a legitimate use of the power to suspend entry: It\u2019s too broad and too indefinite; it is supposed to be reserved for emergencies; the bar for \u201cfinding\u201d that a group\u2019s entry would undermine security is higher than just saying that it would.\r\nIf the Supreme Court agrees with any of these, it doesn\u2019t need to get to the constitutional question to put the ban back on hold. But any argument based on illegality under the Immigration and Nationality Act is just going to allow the government to try a fourth time.\r\n3) Is the travel ban constitutional?\r\nBecause the travel ban is still referred to by its critics (and occasionally by its supporters) as a \u201cMuslim ban,\u201d it might sound like an obvious violation of the First Amendment\u2019s guarantee of free expression of religion and its ban on the establishment of a state religion. Legally speaking, though, it is much more complicated.\r\nFor one thing, this question comes back to the \u201cfacially legitimate and bona fide\u201d standard \u2014 the government argues that since it has offered a national security rationale for the ban, the courts don\u2019t have the power to scrutinize the policy\u2019s constitutionality.\r\n\u00a0\r\nBut the reason Trump\u2019s critics think the ban isn\u2019t facially legitimate and bona fide is the same reason they think it violates the establishment clause to begin with: They believe that even though the ban doesn\u2019t explicitly target Muslims and even though it now includes two non-Muslim countries, it was motivated by anti-Muslim animus and therefore is unconstitutional.\r\n4) Can one judge put the ban on hold everywhere?\r\nEven if the Supreme Court decides that the ban is illegal and\/or unconstitutional, it still might chide the Ninth Circuit for putting it on hold everywhere, rather than just within the states governed by the Ninth Circuit itself.\r\nThere\u2019s a growing concern among some legal scholars, particularly on the right, about the growing use of nationwide injunctions by federal judges asked to rule on the legality of federal programs. Because preliminary injunctions aren\u2019t as thorough as final rulings, it seems like a lot of power to grant one judge in Hawaii or Washington (or Texas) the ability to control federal policy in all 50 states.\r\nEven if the Supreme Court is wary of nationwide injunctions in general, though, it might not choose this case to make a stand. Immigration is notoriously a federal issue, and it\u2019s really hard to argue that people from specific countries can be banned from entering the US via certain states but not others.\r\nWe won\u2019t get a ruling until June, but assume the administration has the upper hand\r\nWednesday\u2019s oral arguments might give the public a few hints about what legal angles the Court finds most important. But Supreme Court oral arguments are a notoriously bad guide to how the court will actually vote in the end.\r\nThe only way to know that is to wait until the Court issues its ruling in the case, which will almost certainly be during its last week of the session \u2014 the last week in June.\r\nIn a way, though, the Court has already tipped its hand. As conservative law professor\u00a0Josh Blackman of South Texas College of Law\u00a0has noted, when the Roberts Court has stopped a lower court\u2019s injunction from going into effect \u2014 as it did here with the Ninth Circuit \u2014 it\u2019s ended up overturning the injunction in every case but one.\r\nThroughout the travel ban cases, the Supreme Court has been a little more deferential to the administration than lower courts. While it\u2019s by no means a sure thing that the Court\u2019s four conservative justices and occasional swing vote Anthony Kennedy will all side with the Trump administration, there certainly isn\u2019t much visible evidence they\u2019ll side against it.\r\nBut while the Supreme Court frequently makes its decisions along obvious ideological lines, it often does not. The question facing the Court right now is which of the stakes it\u2019s most worried about: the legality of the policy as it\u2019s written; the precedent of extending the court\u2019s jurisdiction over immigration; or the prospect of endorsing the signature policy of Donald J. Trump.