“The questions go quite beyond how many people there are.”
The Supreme Court looks poised to hand President Donald Trump a major legal victory Monday by allowing the administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
During over an hour of oral arguments, justices challenged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to include a question about citizenship on the next census form. Lower courts have already found the change unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court’s conservative wing seemed more sympathetic to Ross’s argument.
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Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both questioned why a law supported by the United Nations and on the books in countries like Australia, Canada, France, and Germany shouldn’t be allowed in the United States.
“Does that international practice, that U.N. recommendation, that historical practice in the United States, affect how we should look at the inclusion of a citizenship question in this case?” Kavanaugh asked.
Kavanaugh also noted that Congress hasn’t stepped in to “prohibit the asking of a citizenship question,” while noting that the law gave the secretary of commerce “huge discretion” over census questions. In fact — Gorsuch and Kavanaugh stressed — a citizenship question has been asked on every form but one since 1820.
Chief Justice John Roberts signaled his agreement with the administration as well, noting that asking a citizenship question could lead to better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
“The CVAP, Citizen Voting Age Population, is the critical element in voting rights enforcement, and this is getting citizen information,” Roberts said.
Roberts also pointed out that the census has already strayed far from asking just where people live, including asking demographic questions like sex, age, and homeownership status.
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“The questions go quite beyond how many people there are,” Roberts said.
But the court’s liberal wing didn’t seem to agree with the administration’s argument, pressing Trump’s Solicitor General Noel Francisco on his assertion that a question about citizenship has been present on the census for over 200 years.
“I’m sorry,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. “It’s not been part of the survey, which is where he reinstated it, since 1950. And for 65 years, every secretary of the Department of Commerce, every statistician, including this secretary’s statistician, recommended against adding the question.”
Sotomayor also took issue with Francisco’s suggestion that removing the question would empower groups to boycott other questions in the future.
“Are you suggesting Hispanics are boycotting the census?” Sotomayor asked. “Are you suggesting they don’t have, whether it is rational or not, that they don’t have a legitimate fear?”
Sotomayor asserted that the point of the census was to figure out how many people live in the United States, not how many citizens live there.
“Enumeration is how many preside here, not how many are citizens,” Sotomayor said. “That’s what the census survey is supposed to figure out.”
Ross’ decision to add a citizenship question to the census brought swift backlash from progressive groups, including legal challenges from 18 states, major cities, and immigrant rights groups.
The policy was initially rejected by the lower courts, paving the way for the Supreme Court to have an opportunity to ultimately decide the question.
The battle over the census plays out as Trump continues to battle Democrats on immigration policy. Most notably, Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border to secure funding for his proposed wall, a move that sparked legal challenges from progressive groups.
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