‘At the end of the day, the census count stands as one of the most critical constitutional functions our federal government performs …’
(David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times) The Supreme Court agreed Friday to rule by this summer on the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, dealing a potential political blow to California and other states with large numbers of immigrants.
The outcome could tilt political clout in the next decade away from states and urban areas with fast-growing populations of foreign-born residents.
Data from the once-a-decade count is used to divide up political power between states and within states as well to distribute federal funds. Political experts believe the citizenship question could drive down the population count in states like California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Arizona. Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston could suffer a loss of funding and political clout within their states.
Democratic officials and Latino activists accused President Donald Trump of creating a climate of fear among immigrants, and they say millions of immigrant families may refuse to fill out the census forms if they are asked to name occupants who are not U.S. citizens.
However, others in support of the question, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross aimed to reinstate for the first time in nearly 70 years, say the data is necessary given the vastly changing landscape as states disregard federal law by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities.” The Commerce Department said the information will help to ensure proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
In a brief order, the justices granted a request from Trump’s lawyers to bypass the appellate courts and decide the issue on a fast-track basis.
The court said it would hear the case of Department of Commerce v. New York in late April. They will review a ruling by New York Judge Jesse Furman—an Obama appointee and brother to Obama’s campaign economic policy director, Jason Furman, who was one of the architects of the controversial Obamacare policy and has close ties with the radical leftist Brookings Institution.
Jesse Furman issued a 277-page opinion last month that rebuked the Commerce Department for ignoring the census experts and adopting an untested question that was proposed by White House political advisers. He ruled Ross’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.
But Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, representing the Trump administration, argued that Congress has given the Commerce secretary broad power to conduct the census “in such form and content as he may determine,” quoting the words of the statute. He had urged the Supreme Court to resolve the census dispute by June because the government is scheduled to begin printing the forms that will be mailed to all the households across the nation.
The administration has reason to be confident it will prevail before the conservative-leaning Supreme Court. The political effect could be significant.
Political scientists testified that California stood to lose at least one and as many as three seats in Congress—and the same number of electoral votes—if the citizenship question were added to the census.
“Adding a citizenship question to the census would cause incalculable damage to our democracy,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said Friday. “The evidence presented at trial exposed this was the Trump administration’s plan from the get-go. We look forward to defending our trial court victory in the Supreme Court.”
The legal dispute is the latest of many that pits Trump against California, New York and other “blue states.”
“At the end of the day, the census count stands as one of the most critical constitutional functions our federal government performs and this administration has taken extraordinary steps to jeopardize the possibility of achieving a full and fair count,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The Constitution calls for an “actual enumeration” of the nation’s population every 10 years, and the 14th Amendment adopted after the Civil War said representation in Congress shall be determined by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” This replaced the infamous “three-fifths” clause which had allowed the Southern states to swell their political clout by counting enslaved persons as three-fifths of a person.
The reference to “whole persons” has been understood to mean that everyone residing in the United States is to be counted in the census, regardless of their citizenship status.
Before 1950, the census had asked Americans about their place of birth and citizenship status. Since then, however, that information has been asked of only a statistical sample of the population.
Last year, Ross overruled experts at the Census Bureau and announced he had decided to “reinstate a citizenship question” on the census to provide “block level citizenship voting age population” data. This will “permit more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act and “protect minority population voting rights,” he said.
Veteran voting rights lawyers discounted this explanation.They said the 1965 law had been enforced throughout its history without a need for precise, block-level counts of citizens.
Democratic state attorneys in California, New York and 17 other states filed lawsuits to block the change. Emails released during the litigation revealed that Ross had met with then-White House political strategist Steve Bannon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to discuss adding the citizenship question to the census. This was early in 2017, and they “discussed the potential effect on ‘congressional apportionment’ of adding ‘one simple question’ to the census,” Judge Furman wrote.
(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.