The Trump Administration’s rationale for creating a citizenship question for the 2020 Census questionnaire “seems to have been contrived,” so the U.S. Supreme Court effectively blocked it by sending its case back to the agency to try explaining it again.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the surprise ruling. He didn’t object to the citizenship question itself, but rather took issue with the justification for the question.
“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary [of Commerce Wilbur Ross] gave for his decision,” he wrote. “In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency).”
It wasn’t clear how the high court would come down on the issue, since newly discovered documents from the late renowned GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller cast doubt on the Trump Administration’s justification for including a citizenship question in its national head count.
The conservative majority on the high court seemed poised to uphold the legality of the citizenship question, but the evidence from Hofeller – found in documents turned over by his daughter after his death – contradicted testimony from the Trump Administration and caused a flurry of lower court filings and rulings.
None of the new evidence appeared to have played a role in Thursday’s opinion.
Attorneys for the Trump Administration told justices it wanted the citizenship question included in the 2020 Census to help enforce federal voting rights laws.
“This rationale is difficult to accept,” Robert’s wrote of the voting rights explanation. “One obvious problem is that the DOJ provided no basis to believe that more precise data would in fact help with Voting Rights Act enforcement.”
Challengers argued the question would lead to Hispanic and immigrant households refusing to fill out the Census, which would create inaccurate data. Inaccurate data in communities could mean a loss of federal funds, resources and fair political representation.
The census occurs every 10 years and provides a count of all individuals living in the U.S. The last census in 2010 asked 10 questions about characteristics such as age, sex and homeownership status. There hasn’t been a broad citizenship question since at least 1950.
North Carolina receives more than $16 billion annually in federal funding from census-guided programs, including school lunches, Medicaid and Section 8 housing.
This is a breaking news story and an updated version will be posted at ncpolicywatch.com.