This morning, the Supreme Court told the country what we and our clients have long known: that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross provided a false reason for his decision to add a citizenship question to the Decennial Census. The court explained that the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question—enforcement of the Voting Rights Act—was “contrived.” The justices could not “ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.” Bottom-line, this decision prevents addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census based on the administration’s lies.
As we explained in our complaint and as the district court’s decision found, Secretary Ross “was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office.” He adopted the Voting Rights Act as the reason “late in the process” after already having “made up his mind” to add a citizenship question for other, unstated reasons. Ultimately, “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision.” In other words, the Secretary’s decision was a solution in search of a problem.
The implications for this decision are huge for immigrants and people of color across the county whose census participation the administration sought to suppress with this question. The ruling affirms that our clients—the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, CASA, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee—would be injured by the addition of this question. Striking this question will remove a major barrier to allowing a full count of all people residing in the United States and prevent the use of the census as a political weapon to harm the representation and funding interests of affected communities.
This decision also helps affirm important good-government principles. As the court explained, federal agencies must “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public.” While the Supreme Court’s decision has its flaws—such as refusing to recognize the terribly flawed process in seeking to add this question and Secretary Ross’s ignoring of better alternatives—it does recognize that the public deserves “something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”
We deserve a 2020 census that seeks to count all of us, rather than using political tools to target communities of color and engage in political manipulation.
Davin Rosborough, Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project