After the Supreme Court on Thursday threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, President Donald Trump lashed out at the court’s ruling.
“Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020,” Trump tweeted.
“I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter.
“Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!”
…..United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter. Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in the 5-4 decision. Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neal Gorsuch and Samuel Alito dissented. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer joined Roberts in opposing the question, CNN reported.
The majority opinion did not say that such a question on citizenship could never be added, but focused on the explanation advanced by the Trump administration for proposing the question, making it potentially possible that the question could be added if a good enough answer were to emerge, The New York Times reported.
However, it was unclear Thursday if there would time enough for that to happen and the census forms to be printed in time for distribution.
Administration officials must “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,” Roberts wrote.
“The sole stated reason — seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process.
“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,” the opinion read.
The opinion Roberts wrote centered around a dissonance between what Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said were his reasons for adding the question and what the court’s majority believed to be the truth. Roberts wrote that Ross said he acted solely to address the need for data to help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Roberts said to the contrary, evidence showed “the V.R.A. played an insignificant role in the decisionmaking process.”
Instead, he wrote, citing the Voting Rights Act was part of a drama planned in advance.
“The secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the attorney general himself to ask if D.O.J. would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process,” Roberts wrote.
“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.”
The Supreme Court heard the case on appeal after a trial judge offered the administration another chance to explain itself. Roberts said that was the correct step, which meant the addition of the question is an issue that could return another day.
“In these unusual circumstances, the district court was warranted in remanding to the agency, and we affirm that disposition,” he wrote.
“We do not hold that the agency decision here was substantively invalid,” Roberts wrote. “But agencies must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decision-making under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”
A concurring opinion from Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor said that regardless of what Ross said or did, the question should be opposed because the liberal wing of the court believed the testimony of groups that claims asking a citizenship question would reduce the numbers responding and lead to an inaccurate count.
Thomas scoffed at the logic in the majority in writing his dissent.
“For the first time ever, the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale,” he wrote in a partial dissent joined by Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.
“I do not deny that a judge predisposed to distrust the secretary or the administration could arrange those facts on a corkboard and — with a jar of pins and a spool of string — create an eye-catching conspiracy web,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas said the ruling sets a dangerous precedent.
“Now that the court has opened up this avenue of attack, opponents of executive actions have strong incentives to craft narratives that would derail them,” he wrote.
Alito, in his own dissent, said that as far as he was concerned, the only question at play was whether the Department of Commerce had the authority to change a census question, which he believed it did.
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