Published: Wed, April 24, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Supreme Court conservatives signal possible support for census citizenship question

Supreme Court conservatives signal possible support for census citizenship question

In an 80-minute argument Tuesday that was both technical and combative, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh directed nearly all their questions to the lawyers challenging the decision to ask about citizenship.

The official population count, as determined by the census, is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal funds.

Key U.S. Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to let the Trump administration add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census in a clash that will shape the allocation of congressional seats and federal dollars.

A decision in the case is expected over the summer.

During about 80 minutes of arguments, Roberts and other conservative justices appeared to accept the administration's argument that the question would yield better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination.

Nielsen is getting into the 2020 census fight because of the Trump Administration's effort to add a controversial citizenship question.

Kavanaugh said it is a "very common question" internationally, and that federal law gives Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, "huge discretion" in how the survey is conducted. In 2018, the Supreme Court handed the administration a win, allowing it to implement a travel ban that targets several Muslim-majority countries.

Alex Vazquez, a member of CASA, an organisation advocating for Latino and immigrants in Maryland, said the biggest fear among immigrants is that the Trump administration will use their information inappropriately.

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The case comes in a pair of lawsuits by a group of states and localities led by NY state, and a coalition of immigrant rights groups challenging the legality of the question. NY on April 23, 2019. The liberal justices, for their part, seemed intent on agreeing with the claim that a question about citizenship would undermine the accuracy of the census's count.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to prevent the suppression of minority votes.

"You can't read the record without sensing that this need is a contrived one", liberal Justice Elena Kagan said.

Sotomayor, who tangled with Trump administration's lawyer Noel Francisco during the argument, said there was "no doubt" the question would drive down the census response rate. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have halted the trial. Gorsuch noted that "it's not like this question is improper to ask".

The government said the question has been asked before, provides important information and besides, refusing to answer the census is illegal, so catering to the potential for Americans' to take illegal action is fraught with its own perils. It also says the question is plainly constitutional because it has been asked on many past censuses and continues to be used on smaller, annual population surveys. While only USA citizens can vote, non-citizens comprise an estimated 7 percent of the population.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of NY ruled earlier this year against the Trump administration, writing in an opinion that Ross "failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices".

But the Trump administration has argued that the citizenship question is needed to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The four left-leaning justices pressed the solicitor general for the Justice Department to explain the reasoning behind the citizenship question, noting experts at the Census Bureau have said the citizenship question could lead to an undercount of as many as 6.5 million, especially in urban areas.

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