Supreme Court blocks Trump administration on census citizenship question
liveslow/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc on Thursday to reject the Trump administration’s justification for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, sending the matter back to the Commerce Department for further explanation and review.
The decision blocks the addition of a citizenship question for now, but appeared to leave open the possibility that the administration could make another attempt to add it.
The Census Bureau is poised to print the 2020 census forms in the next few days, making addition of the question potentially impossible.
In unusually sharp terms, Roberts criticized Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the administration for essentially fabricating a case for the citizenship question, rejecting its claim in court that it was solely a request of the Justice Department for help enforcing the Voting Rights Act.
“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency),” Roberts wrote. “And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived. ”
“We cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given,” Roberts added. “Our review is deferential, but we are ‘not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.'”
“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,” he said. “We do not hold that the agency decision here was substantively invalid. But agencies must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decisionmaking under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”
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