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The Supreme Court just temporarily blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census



wilbur ross

  • The US Supreme Court voted to temporarily block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 US census on Thursday.
  • The push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census began at the US Department of Commerce, led by Secretary Wilbur Ross, which convinced the Department of Justice to argue the question was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
  • Three federal judges previously ruled that the the administration violated the Administration Procedure Act in adding the question, and that it would violate the constitution’s enumeration clause by hindering the accuracy of the question.
  • Further litigation over whether the citizenship question discriminates against minority groups in violation of the Equal Protection Clause will still continue in the lower courts, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling.
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The United States Supreme Court voted to block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 US census on Thursday — but it could be temporary.

The case, United States Department of Commerce v. New York, No. 18-966, was one of the biggest of the year, and the administration had tumultuous legal battle to include the controversial question.

Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross didn’t give proper reasoning for adding the citizenship question, but that the Trump administration could prevail in adding it if they gave a better explanation. The case will go back to the lower courts with the justices’ guidance.

It was a complex ruling, with the justices agreeing and disagreeing with each other on several points. Some parts were unanimous, while others fell down party lines.

The push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census began when Ross convinced the Department of Justice to argue that adding a citizenship question to the census was necessary to enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other government entities and groups almost immediately sued over the administration’s planned addition of a citizenship question in multiple jurisdictions beginning in April 2018, arguing in all three cases that the administration violated proper administrative procedure in adding the question.

States and immigrant rights groups sued, arguing that adding the citizenship question wouldn’t accurately count

The Census Bureau’s own internal research found that a citizenship question would suppress census participation among Latinx and undocumented people, meaning that states and areas with high concentrations of such residents could stand to lose federal funding, congressional districts, and electoral college votes.

us census supreme court

Read more: The Supreme Court will decide if the 2020 Census can ask about citizenship, possibly affecting the distribution of billions of dollars in federal money

Since then, federal judges in New York, California, and Maryland have sided with groups challenging the administration on the matter, ruling that the Trump administration’s addition of the question was “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, whic lead the Trump administration to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

In April, US District Court Judge George Hazel found that “a citizenship question will cause a differential decline in Census participation among non-citizen and Hispanic households,” according to the Associated Press.

A month earlier, a judge in California ruled that not only did Ross violate the APA on multiple fronts, but that the question violated the enumeration clause of the US constitution, finding that it would “significantly impair” the Census Bureau’s ability to accurately count the population.

New evidence from a dead man’s computer files emerged after the case was argued

Even with the Supreme Court’s ruling, litigation over the the citizenship question will continue in the lower courts surrounding a new development that occurred in May that uncovered possible motivations behind adding the citizenship question.

The plaintiffs came into possession of new evidence from a hard drive owned by Thomas Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year. Hofeller was heavily involved in advising Trump transition officials on the citizenship question, writing a portion of a draft memo that was later used as part of the administration’s justification that the question was necessary to uphold the VRA.

Supreme Court Justices

Read more: The Trump administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 census to help Republicans win elections, according to new evidence

In one 2015 study discovered on the hard drives, Hofeller modeled hypothetical Texas electoral maps based on population surveys that only counted the voting-age population of the state instead of total population. (The Department of Justice has argued there is insufficient evidence to prove Hofeller showed his research to Trump administration officials.)

According to The New York Times, Hofeller found that such a plan — which would not include non-citizen Latinx Texans or their minor children in drawing districts — would “be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” by allocating fewer congressional representatives for majority Latinx and Democratic-voting areas.

Hofeller wrote that carrying out this plan would be “functionally unworkable … without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” The Times reported.

After the emergence of the Hofeller documents, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Judge Hazel in Maryland to examine whether the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy to discriminate against racial minorities in violation of the Equal Protection Clause based on the new evidence, a legal question which did not come before the Supreme Court in the oral argumentation over the case in April.

SEE ALSO: Trump’s new tool for collecting stories of social-media bias has one unusual question on it: Are you a US citizen?

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