Law & the Courts

SCOTUS Blocks Trump Administration from Including Census Citizenship Question

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2018 (Al Drago/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the decennial national census on the grounds that it failed to provide an adequate justification for doing so.

In a split decision, the Court sent the matter back to a lower court for review, setting up a protracted and high-stakes legal battle that will likely last throughout much of the summer, surpassing the July deadline that administration attorneys have said they would need to meet to include the question on the upcoming census.

In his decision, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly criticized Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for failing to adequately justify his decision to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.

“The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation [Ross] gave for his decision,” Roberts wrote. “The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived.”

Ross claimed last year that he added the citizenship question at the behest of the Department of Justice in order to facilitate the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which, in certain circumstances, requires that government lawyers know how many minorities live in a certain area for the purpose of drawing election districts.

Critics of the administration have suggested the rationale was a disingenuous ploy intended to conceal a true desire to weaken Democratic congressional representation by eliminating illegal immigrants from the census rolls.

Writing in dissent, three of the Court’s four conservative justices said they would have approved the administrations’s request to add the citizenship question because they accepted the justification Ross provided.

“For the first time ever, the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale,” said Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote a separate dissent.

The liberal justices concurred with Roberts’s decision to send the matter back to a lower court.

The ruling comes after U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of New York blocked the citizenship question, arguing that the question would discourage participation in the census and lead to significant undercounting.

Most Popular


How States Like Virginia Go Blue

So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County. In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one ... Read More

Democratic Denial

One point I'd draw out from David Harsanyi's post below: It has been more than thirty years since a Democratic presidential nominee failed to make it to the White House and thought the loss was legitimate. Read More

Religious-Freedom Voters Will Vote Trump

The late Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy wrote, "Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion all have a double aspect — freedom of thought and freedom of action.” To which one should be able to add, freedom of inaction -- meaning that absent a compelling state interest, people should ... Read More
Books, Arts & Manners

Why Study Latin?

Oxford professor Nicola Gardini urges people to read and study Latin. He believes that Latin is the antidote for the modern age, which seems transfixed by the spontaneous, the easy, and the ephemeral. His new book, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, argues that Latin combines truth and ... Read More