In five-to-four decision today, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s more liberal justices in striking down the Trump administration’s bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—at least for now.
The court didn’t address whether or not Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the right to add the question to the once-a-decade survey without seeking congressional approval, but said the reasons he gave for adding it were dubious.
Roberts wrote in the decision, “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.”
Ross’s claim that the citizenship question would be added to help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act had already been laughed out of several lower courts.
Secretary Ross or others in the administration could still try to scramble up a plausible explanation, but the Census Bureau has already said it would need to know by the end of this month whether or not to add the question to its forms.
The Census was intended count total U.S. population–not just the number of citizens–in order to determine how federal funds are allocated to the states, how many Electoral College votes each state receives, as well as the size of each state’s congressional delegation.
Opponents of the citizenship question said it would scare non-citizens away from the Census, resulting in millions of people going uncounted in areas like, say, California, which just happen to also be areas that tend to vote for Democrats.
In a triumphant tweet today, the ACLU wrote, “The Trump administration’s attempt to politicize and manipulate this fundamental pillar of our democracy has failed. Our communities will be counted.”
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