The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is blocking the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 Census. And in Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision announcing the ruling, he appeared to accuse the Trump administration of lying.
Initially, the Trump administration argued that adding the citizenship question was necessary in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA). As Grit Post reported in May, the origin of the VRA rationale actually came from Dr. Thomas Hofeller — a longtime Republican strategist specializing in drawing district maps benefiting Republicans — in August of 2017. Hofeller suggested using the rationale as cover for adding a citizenship question to the U.S. Census, even though he knew that adding such a question would disproportionately benefit “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” in future redistricting efforts.
The ACLU’s discovery of Hofeller’s involvement in the crafting of the VRA rationale — which the organization submitted to the SCOTUS — appears to have been what influenced Chief Justice Roberts toward siding with the court’s four liberal-leaning justices.
“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,” Roberts wrote in his opinion. “The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. The explanation provided here was more of a distraction.”
“Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case,” Roberts added.
However, as the New York Times reported Thursday, the SCOTUS’ decision to remand the case back to the lower courts still leaves the door open on whether or not such a question could ultimately end up on next year’s Census, as it could give the Trump administration another reason to justify the citizenship question. But it’s worth noting that the announcement of the decision is the final case decided by SCOTUS in this current term before it adjourns for the summer. And because 2020 Census forms must be printed soon, it isn’t likely the court will allow the citizenship question in time for the 2020 Census.
Had the question been added, the Times estimates it could have led to an undercount of approximately 6.5 million people, affecting how hundreds of billions of federal infrastructure dollars are spent — especially in Democratic-leaning states with high concentrations of immigrants, like California and New York.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.