In a 5-4 decision spearheaded by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to the Trump administration on Thursday by enjoining it from including a question about a person’s citizenship status on the 2020 census.
“The court said the administration’s explanation for adding such a question is insufficient and sent it back to the lower courts for further consideration,” Fox News reports of the decision. “The ruling marks a setback for the administration, though the issue is not yet resolved. Still, while further lower-court litigation is possible, it would be very difficult for the administration to get the question on the census in time for the forms to be printed by the government’s own self-declared summer deadline.”
Once again, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with his liberal colleagues and penned the majority decision, arguing that the Trump administration did not provide adequate reasoning for including the citizenship question on the 2020 census and declaring it “incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process” and that the court “cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”
“Neither respondents nor my colleagues have been able to identify any relevant, judicially manageable limits on the Secretary’s decision to put a core demographic question back on the census,” wrote Roberts. “The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the [Commerce] 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),” he continued. “And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the [Voting Rights Act] enforcement rationale — the sole stated reason — seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.”
Roberts did, however, concede that the census citizenship question was not “substantially invalid” and only “demanded that agencies must pursue their goals reasonably.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch all dissented. Justice Thomas criticized the court for making a decision based on the agency’s supposed “sincerity.”
“For the first time ever, the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale. This conclusion is extraordinary. The court engages in an unauthorized inquiry into evidence not properly before us to reach an unsupported conclusion.”
The decision, Department of Commerce v. New York, will likely be the most-discussed SCOTUS decision from the present term. Fox News provided some additional relevant background information:
This case was one of the most closely watched cases of the court’s term, Department of Commerce v. New York, and explored exactly what led to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross deciding to include the question in the first place. The ruling comes after a ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, which said the question was improper.
At issue was whether Ross acted within his authority when he added the question. More specifically, there were questions as to whether he violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets standards for how federal agencies make changes, or the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, which says that congressional representatives are apportioned to states based on their populations’ “numbers” and “persons.”
Earlier in June, the House Oversight Committee voted to hold Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt after they did not turn over documents pertaining to a committee request for records related to the addition of the citizenship question. President Trump had invoked executive privilege to keep the records away from the House. The House has yet to take any further steps in contempt proceedings.