Jus­tices seem ready to OK ask­ing cit­i­zen­ship on cen­sus

The News-Times - - NATION/WORLD -

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity seemed ready Tues­day to up­hold the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to ask about cit­i­zen­ship on the 2020 cen­sus, de­spite ev­i­dence that mil­lions of His­pan­ics and im­mi­grants could go un­counted.

There ap­peared to be a clear di­vide be­tween the court’s lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive jus­tices in ar­gu­ments in a case that could af­fect how many seats states have in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and their share of fed­eral dol­lars over the next 10 years. States with a large num­ber of im­mi­grants tend to vote Demo­cratic.

Three lower courts have so far blocked the plan to ask ev­ery U.S. res­i­dent about cit­i­zen­ship in the cen­sus, find­ing that the ques­tion would dis­cour­age many im­mi­grants from be­ing counted . Two of the three judges also ruled that ask­ing if peo­ple are cit­i­zens would vi­o­late the pro­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion that calls for a count of the pop­u­la­tion, re­gard­less of cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus, ev­ery 10 years. The last time the ques­tion was in­cluded on the cen­sus form sent to ev­ery Amer­i­can house­hold was 1950.

But over 80 min­utes in a packed court­room, the con­ser­va­tive jus­tices did not ap­pear to share the con­cern of the lower court judges.

Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh, the court’s newest mem­ber and an ap­pointee of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, sug­gested Congress could change the law if it so con­cerned that the ac­cu­racy of the once-a-decade pop­u­la­tion count will suf­fer. “Why doesn’t Congress pro­hibit the ask­ing of the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion?” Ka­vanaugh asked near the end of the morn­ing ses­sion.

Ka­vanaugh and the other con­ser­va­tives were mostly silent when So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Noel Fran­cisco, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s top Supreme Court lawyer, de­fended Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross’ de­ci­sion to add the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion. Ross has said the Jus­tice De­part­ment wanted the cit­i­zen­ship data, the de­tailed in­for­ma­tion it would pro­duce on where el­i­gi­ble vot­ers live, to im­prove en­force­ment of the Vot­ing Rights Act.

Lower courts found that Ross’ ex­pla­na­tion was a pre­text for adding the ques­tion, not­ing that he had con­sulted early in his ten­ure with Stephen Ban­non, Trump’s for­mer top po­lit­i­cal ad­viser and im­mi­gra­tion hard­liner Kris Kobach, the for­mer Kansas sec­re­tary of state.

The lib­eral jus­tices pep­pered Fran­cisco with ques­tions about the ad­min­is­tra­tion plan, but they would lack the votes to stop it with­out sup­port from at least one con­ser­va­tive jus­tice.

J. Scott Applewhite / As­so­ci­ated Press

Im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists rally out­side the Supreme Court in Washington on Tues­day as the jus­tices hear ar­gu­ments over the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to ask about cit­i­zen­ship on the 2020 cen­sus.

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