‘The court actually invited Trump to take it at its word and to try to put the question back on again…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) President Donald Trump planned a news conference Thursday afternoon to address the citizenship question that he hoped to add to the 2020 census—over the objections of Democrats who fear it will diminish their political power.
Prior to the Thursday announcement, questions swirled as to whether the president would declare executive action to force the question onto the census—possibly ignoring activist judges’ efforts to block it through injunction—or whether he might instead abandon the fight.
With the census already facing delays in its printing schedule, supporters of the question had hoped a presidential directive would speed the process through the courts and circumvent the bureaucratic blockages facing the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.
SCOTUS’s Open Invitation?
In a previous ruling on a challenge brought by New York state officials, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court after determining that a “contrived” reason for adding the question was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had attempted to argue that the question would help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by ensuring that citizens in minority communities received sufficient access to polling places.
Despite rejecting that reasoning, though, Chief Justice John Roberts left open a clear pathway for the question to be included, ruling on several other points in favor of the Trump administration.
“The court actually invited Trump to take it at its word and to try to put the question back on again,” former deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo told Fox News’s Shannon Bream this week.
Roberts rebuked the lower court for its overreach in substituting its own value judgments for the law, and he said it was within the authority of the Commerce Department—not the judges—to determine what questions went on the census.
The court’s opinion also upheld the administration’s right to include the question for political or other agenda-related reasons.
“Essentially, he said, ‘come back.’ We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters last week, according to USA Today.
“Inclusion of such a citizenship question is clearly constitutional and lawful,” said the group, led by Rep. Chip Roy, D-Texas. “… [I]t is critical that the President do so as quickly as possible as we prepare for the coming census.”
The administration had previously told courts that it needed to begin printing census forms by July 1, and the Commerce Department announced last week that it had begun printing the forms without the citizenship question.
Rather than face a protracted court battle that could pose further delays to the printing schedule, Trump said he may sign an executive order or other presidential directive, thus forcing opponents to come up with a rationale for blocking it.
A ‘Ridiculous’ Challenge
The effort to include the question touches on an issue at the heart of many of Trump’s policies and campaign promises.
Those states stand to benefit tremendously from flouting federal immigration laws and enforcement efforts if importing non-citizens enables them to gain legislative seats and additional federal funding by raising population counts on the census.
Questions also have arisen as to whether these jurisdictions have enforced their own election laws in good faith or have allowed illegal immigrants to vote by declining to check citizenship status at polling places—instead leaving the would-be voters (many facing a language barrier and limited understanding of election laws) to vouch for their own status.
Trump this week sent out an email to supporters calling it “totally ridiculous that our Nation’s government cannot ask a basic question of citizenship in our very EXPENSIVE, very important Census.”
Dissent in the Ranks?
Trump’s shifting legal strategies have flustered some of the attorneys attempting to argue the cases before several radically left-wing federal judges appointed by Barack Obama, who have been openly dismissive of the efforts.
Maryland District Judge George Hazel—overseeing a case that claims the question is “racist”—ripped the attorneys for confusion caused by mixed signals from Trump and the Commerce Department over whether they would continue the fight.
Hazel demanded last week that the legal team clarify whether it intended to proceed with the case.
Hazel also indicated that Trump’s past comments on immigration may factor into his final decision, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Both Hazel and New York Judge Jesse Furman—presiding once again over the remanded Supreme Court case—blocked efforts by the Justice Department to swap the entire legal team working on the census issue for new lawyers—possibly signaling dissent or frustration within the ranks.
But even with the uphill battle, Newsmax founder Chris Ruddy said Trump and those close to him were confident that their efforts to include the question would prevail.
“I do believe it’s a simple… it’s a winning issue for the president,” Ruddy told CNN’s Don Lemon.
“I do know that the president thinks he’s on very safe ground,” Ruddy added. “He and I chatted about it over the weekend.”
Reporting by the Los Angeles Times’s Noah Bierman also contributed to this article.