White House Told to Provide a Better Explanation for Adding Citizenship Question
By: Courtney Weaver
Donald Trump said he is considering delaying the 2020 census after the US Supreme Court dealt a setback to his administration’s plans to add a question about citizenship to the once-a-decade survey. Earlier on Thursday, the court, in a majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, sent the case back to a lower court and asked the Trump administration to provide a better explanation for its motives. It hands a temporary reprieve to critics of the move, who feared it would disproportionately hurt immigration populations. Mr Roberts wrote that while it was not necessarily unconstitutional to add a citizenship question to the census, the administration’s explanation that it was doing so to better enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) — a law prohibiting discrimination in federal voting practices — was suspect. “It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action — and it should be,” said Mr Roberts. “But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.” He added: “Unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale — the sole stated reason — seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.” Mr Trump said in a tweet on Thursday that he had asked “the lawyers” whether they could delay the census until the Supreme Court had given its definitive ruling on whether the question could be included. “Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen,” he tweeted. “Only in America!” A question about citizenship started appearing on the constitutionally mandated census in 1820, but it was removed in 1950 as officials worried about its impact on the survey’s accuracy. The Trump administration’s move to add a question about citizenship on the 2020 census was immediately met with lawsuits by states including New York. Justice department lawyers had argued that the question was needed to give an accurate portrait of the US population and properly enforce anti-discrimination law. Democrats and immigrant-rights groups, however, have argued that the return of the question will seriously damage the accuracy of the census, as many non-citizens and their family members could choose to avoid filling out the questionnaire for fear the Trump administration could use the information provided as part of their crackdown on undocumented immigrants inside the US. Such a move, they argue, would lead to a dramatic undercount of Latino and immigrant populations inside the US, many of whom live in Democratic-leaning districts. The decision will be widely welcomed by US business groups, which had expressed concern that a citizenship question would reduce response rates, undercounting people and impairing the accuracy of a data set on which many companies depend. In an amicus brief earlier this year, companies ranging from Levi Strauss to Univision Communications argued that retailers needed accurate census data to inform decisions on where to open and stock stores, cable companies relied on it to target advertising and companies such as Uber used it to understand policy issues relating to their impact on different communities. David Kenny, chief executive officer of Nielsen, the consumer and media data company, tweeted: “The truth is more critical now than ever before. We respect the Supreme Court’s decision to drive toward the truth behind the reasons for the Commerce Department’s US Census citizenship question.” The census question divided the court along multiple lines, with different justices concurring and dissenting to different parts of the majority decision. The justice department said in a statement that it was disappointed by the ruling and would “continue to defend this administration’s lawful exercises of executive power.” The court’s decision comes as a US federal judge in Maryland examines, in a separate case over the citizenship question, whether the Trump administration meant to discriminate against certain minority groups by adding the question. If the US district judge rules against the administration, the case could ultimately find its way back to the Supreme Court, which chose not to examine the issue of intent when it picked up the case earlier this year. Time is of the essence, however, with the once-a-decade census due to take place next year. It was not immediately clear whether the Trump administration would have enough time to reargue its case before the deadline for the census forms to be printed.
Separately on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts did not have the right to decide whether partisan gerrymandering — or redrawing district lines for political purposes — violated the Constitution, a blow for activists who had hoped the court would take a more active role on the issue. Looking at two instances of gerrymandering, one by Democrats in Maryland and another by Republicans in North Carolina, the court’s five conservative justices ruled that it was not up to the federal courts to weigh in on the issue. “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions,” Mr Roberts said wrote in the majority opinion. Elena Kagan, one of the court’s four liberals, argued in a dissent that modern technology had allowed a degree of extreme gerrymandering that had never been possible before. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections,” she said.
Source: Financial Times