Dems Desperate to Block Census Citizenship Question
It's a full-court press to sway Chief Justice John Roberts against Donald Trump.
With the Supreme Court poised to issue a ruling any day now, Democrats and leftist advocacy groups are making a desperate, last-minute attempt to influence the nation’s highest court regarding whether to allow a citizenship question to be reinstated on the 2020 census questionnaire.
Under review is the case of Department of Commerce v. New York, challenging the addition of the citizenship question. Critics claim the question itself will harm minority communities who will be less willing to respond to the census survey, in which case (critics assert) those communities will be underrepresented.
The real issue for Democrats, of course, is not concern for minority communities, but control of Congress, and therefore control of the $880 billion in annual federal spending for schools, roads, infrastructure, and other public services. The party that controls the purse strings wields enormous power.
The last-minute effort to sway the Court centers on an unpublished 2015 study by deceased Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, discovered recently on a hard drive by his estranged daughter. Leftists claim this is evidence of a scheme by the Trump administration to dilute and suppress the minority vote, which tends toward Democrats, in order to increase Republican-held seats in Congress.
Under prior Supreme Court rulings on the Voting Rights Act, states could show compliance by creating “majority-minority” districts in which a majority of eligible voters in the district are racial minorities. The problem for Democrats is their realization that this has both helped and hurt them in practice. By drawing racial minorities in from surrounding areas to create the majority-minority districts, it has strengthened the remaining districts for Republicans, even increasing the number of Republican-held districts.
Now Democrats claim the citizenship question will deter minorities from participating in the census, reducing the population counts in minority-heavy areas where Democrats dominate. They claim the citizenship question will result, in a “high risk” scenario, of an undercounting of the black population by 3.7% and of the Hispanic/Latino population by 3.6%. The Trump administration has argued that getting accurate census data is necessary to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act. In other words, as with securing the border, Democrats are suing the Trump administration to prevent it from enforcing laws passed by Congress.
The ACLU filed the unpublished study in court last week, claiming it is evidence of an effort to undercount minorities, but the Department of Justice issued a statement vigorously denouncing any claims a partisan motive. Instead, the DOJ press release rebukes the accusers, stating, “The motion borders on frivolous, and appears to be an attempt to reopen the evidence in this already-closed case and to drag this Court into Plaintiffs’ eleventh-hour campaign to improperly derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of the government’s appeal.”
The “evidence” of the alleged scheme was made public last week in a court filing by the ACLU, but the Department of Justice issued a statement vigorously denouncing any claims of a partisan motive. Instead, the DOJ press release rebukes the accusers, stating, “The motion borders on frivolous, and appears to be an attempt to reopen the evidence in this already-closed case and to drag this Court into Plaintiffs’ eleventh-hour campaign to improperly derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of the government’s appeal.”
The DOJ asserts there is no evidence that the unpublished survey even made it to Trump administration officials charged with conducting the census: “Before today, Mr. Gore [a DOJ official] had never heard of the unpublished study apparently obtained from the personal effects of a deceased political consultant. That study played no role in the Department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.” In fact, the DOJ called it “an unfortunate last-ditch effort to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case.”
Additionally, Hofeller’s study didn’t assert that asking the citizenship question would affect redistricting; instead, it said basing voting districts on citizen age would have that effect.
The goal here is to pressure Chief Justice John Roberts into blocking the citizenship question. Leftists believe he can be manipulated if he fears a particular ruling by the Court will be portrayed as politically motivated, regardless of whether it actually is. That’s not unreasonable. It was Roberts who succumbed to media pressure, reportedly switching his vote at the last minute to side with the leftists in upholding ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Democrats and the press were relentless in the final weeks before the ruling, claiming a failure to uphold the individual mandate would be a sign of partisanship.
The general sentiment of Court-watchers is that this Hail Mary, however, will not be successful.
First of all, during oral arguments the Court’s conservative majority appeared to agree with the Trump administration that it has broad authority and discretion over census questions, and in a separate ruling last fall, the Court ruled it is not unconstitutional for Cabinet officers to have political motives for policy.
Furthermore, court records for this case are officially closed. With the Census Bureau warning it must begin printing forms this month or risk missing deadlines, it makes it unlikely the Court would consider this last-minute appeal.
Taking these issues into account, as well as prior indicators by the Court that it was ready to address the question, and the fact that the Supreme Court earlier this year agreed to hear the case before it went through the appeals process, makes it unlikely that the justices will allow this new evidence to be factored into their decision.
Even so, Chief Justice Roberts is the wild card. Stay tuned.