Steve Sack cartoon

Steve Sack cartoon

The Supreme Court’s refusal to sign off on a citizenship question for the upcoming 2020 census didn’t resolve the most important legal problems, but effectively decided the issue.

For one reason or another, the Trump administration had wanted to ask those who took the census if they were citizens of the United States. The president’s political opponents and Census Bureau experts say that would have a chilling effect on whether undocumented residents would answer the question. Other citizens threatened to boycott the census if the question was in use.

The Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. While the count’s first purpose is for distribution of political representation, the Constitution’s requirement is for an “actual enumeration” of those living in the U.S. — everyone, not just the citizens. So, the Census Bureau has to be careful not to discourage participation by asking questions that would deliberately undercount the population.

Trump officials maintained the citizenship question was designed to help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, a rationale that was never satisfactory and which Chief Justice John Roberts politely said “seems to have been contrived.” Other evidence makes it clear that partisan considerations were in the minds of those who helped shape the question.

Still the high court didn’t rule that the Census Bureau couldn’t ask the question, only that the administration’s current justification was insufficient.

President Trump reacted angrily by Twitter, saying he’s asked lawyers if they can “delay the Census, no matter how long” until the Supreme Court can make a definitive decision on the citizenship question.

We don’t think the census can be delayed — it’s a Constitutional mandate — nor do we think it should be. The Supreme Court has given Trump a polite out that allows him to walk away claiming that the citizenship question is unresolved, and he should take it.

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