The controversial citizen- ship question will not be on the 2020 census, but not because Republican President Donald Trump agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that rejected the administration’s “contrived” rationale.
Chief Justice John Roberts, reacting to the White House’s argument that it needed the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, said the reason “seems to have been contrived.”
Indeed, during the legal proceedings, headline-grabbing evidence revealed the Republican Party’s longtime redistricting mastermind had initiated the push for the question because the party believed it would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
In deciding not to fight the court ruling, Trump issued an executive order directing every department of the federal government to provide any citizenship information to the Commerce Department, which conducts the decennial census.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” the president said last week.
While voicing his disapproval of the high-court ruling, Trump conceded that continuing the legal fight would jeopardize the 2020 census.
It’s worth noting that the Justice Department had made the decision to print census forms without the citizenship question shortly after the court ruling – even though the White House kept insisting that the issue was not resolved.
In fact, some speculated that Trump was planning to issue an executive order to include the question in the census.
It’s fortunate that cooler heads prevailed and that the GOP has been stymied in its attempt to politicize the census.
As Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, noted, “The decennial census is one of the most monumental undertakings by our federal government, and work to ensure an accurate count must now begin with all deliberate speed.”
The Lawyers’ Committee successfully challenged the administration on the use of the citizenship question in federal court in California. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
The Voting Rights Project with the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in on the president’s decision to drop the citizenship question from the census.
“Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper,” said Director Dale Ho.
ENORMOUS POLITICAL PAYOFF
Why was the GOP so determined to make citizenship the focal point of the census? For the simple reason the political payoff would have been enormous.
The U.S. Constitution mandates a count every 10 years of all the people living in America – citizens and noncitizens. However, civil-rights groups worried – with good reason – that a question about citizenship would have deterred immigrants from responding.
Given the Trump administration’s virulent anti-immigration stand, there’s justifiable fear that the government will use the information to initiate deportation proceedings against noncitizens.
According to Mother Jones magazine, a large undercount of immigrant communities would shift economic and political power to areas that are whiter and more conservative.
“The stakes are huge: The census determines how $880 billion in federal funding is allocated, how much representation states receive and how political districts are drawn,” Mother Jones reported.
In its 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Trump administration’s explanation for pushing to add the citizenship question was “more of a distraction” than an explanation.
Chief Justice Roberts, a conservative, joined the four liberals in the parts of the ruling against the administration.
President Trump’s public criticism of the outcome was triggered by the fact that the courts saw through the Republican Party’s political ploy.
Here’s proof of the Trump administration’s ulterior motive: When the Census Bureau asked to meet with the Justice Department to voice its concerns about the question, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions blocked lawyers in the department’s Civil Rights Division from doing so.
The bureau estimated it could cause as many as 9 million people not to respond to the census and increase the cost of conducting it by millions of dollars.
Republicans would have used the census data to draw state legislative districts based on citizenship rather than total population.
As Tom Hofeller, the GOP redistricting expert behind the citizenship question, noted, that would be a “radical departure from the federal ‘one person, one vote’ rule presently used in the United States” and would hurt Latino representation, but increase the number of seats held by white Republicans.
Republicans have been stymied in their effort to politicize the census, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on their goal of one-party rule throughout the country.