High court takes up cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion for cen­sus

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY GE­ORGE F. WILL

The oral ar­gu­ments the Supreme Court will hear Tues­day will be more deco­rous than the gusts of ju­di­cial testi­ness that blew the case up to the na­tion’s high­est tri­bunal. The case, which raises ar­cane ques­tions of ad­min­is­tra­tive law but could have widely ra­di­at­ing po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy con­se­quences, comes from the En­light­en­ment men­tal­ity of the na­tion’s Founders and in­volves this ques­tion: Does it mat­ter that a con­spic­u­ously un­en­light­ened mem­ber of the pres­i­dent’s cab­i­net lied in sworn tes­ti­mony about why he made a de­ci­sion that he ar­guably has the statu­tory power to make?

America’s 18th-cen­tury Founders placed in the Con­sti­tu­tion’s sec­ond sec­tion af­ter the pre­am­ble a re­quire­ment for a cen­sus. And the 14th Amend­ment stip­u­lates the re­quired ac­tual enu­mer­a­tion, ev­ery 10 years, of “the whole num­ber” of per­sons re­sid­ing in the coun­try. From 1820 (when Congress wanted “for­eign­ers not nat­u­ral­ized” to be counted) through 1950, the cen­sus al­most al­ways in­cluded a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion, and in 2018 Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross de­cided that the 2020 “short-form” ques­tion­naire, the one that goes to ev­ery house­hold, should in­clude one. Ross has tes­ti­fied that he was “re­spond­ing solely” to a Jus­tice Depart­ment re­quest for the ques­tion to pro­vide data help­ful to en­force­ment of the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965.

A fed­eral judge called this ra­tio­nale “pre­tex­tual” be­cause Ross was jus­ti­fy­ing a de­ci­sion “al­ready made for other rea­sons.” This was a po­lite way of say­ing Ross lied, which he al­most cer­tainly did: Jus­tice of­fi­cials ini­tially re­jected Com­merce’s re­quest that it ask for a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion, and said such data was un­nec­es­sary for VRA en­force­ment. The dis­trict judge said Com­merce sought the Jus­tice let­ter to “laun­der” the re­quest for the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion “through an­other agency,” this be­ing just one of “a ver­i­ta­ble smor­gas­bord” of rules vi­o­la­tions by Ross and his aides.

Ross also tes­ti­fied that he was “not aware” of any dis­cus­sions of the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tions be­tween Com­merce and the White House. But af­ter 18 states, 15 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and var­i­ous im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cacy groups sued, he ac­knowl­edged meet­ing early in 2017 with then­pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Stephen Ban­non, an an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion zealot. The dis­trict judge said Ross “ma­te­ri­ally mis­char­ac­ter­ized” – trans­la­tion: lied about – a con­ver­sa­tion with a polling ex­pert to ob­fus­cate the ex­pert’s ob­jec­tions to the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion.

Ross’s wretched be­hav­ior doesn’t al­ter the fact that Congress has granted to him suf­fi­cient dis­cre­tion to in­clude the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion. This, in spite of rea­son­able sur­mises about his mo­tives that his be­hav­ior seemed de­signed to dis­guise.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.