The Supreme Court has, for now at least, blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 U.S. Census.
However, their convoluted decision raised more questions than it answered, leaving readers on both sides of the aisle a bit baffled as to what exactly happened.
Here's the basic background. In the 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the more left-leaning judges on the bench in ruling that the administration failed to provide a good reason for adding the question, calling the Executive Branch's explanation "contrived." However, the court didn’t actually rule on the constitutional merits of the question itself, creating a bit of a confusing conundrum and failing to actually settle the issue once and for all.
But despite also admitting that “[t]he population count derived from the census is used not only to apportion representatives but also to allocate federal funds to the States and to draw electoral districts,” Roberts, who penned the majority opinion, also declared that the administration failed to convincingly explain why they wanted to add the question in the first place, citing a “disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”
“If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case,” Roberts wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas, however, penned a scathing rebuttal to this claim in the dissenting opinion, suggesting SCOTUS was upholding a ruling from a district court that targeted the administration's policy proposal simply because the lower court didn't like Trump.
Unable to identify any legal problem with the Secretary’s reasoning, the Court imputes one by concluding that he must not be telling the truth. The Court therefore upholds the decision of the District Court—which, in turn, was transparently based on the application of an administration-specific standard.
And he wasn't done.
"According to the Court, something just 'seems' wrong," Thomas continued. "This conclusion is extraordinary. The Court engages in an unauthorized inquiry into evidence not properly before us to reach an unsupported conclusion. Moreover, each step of the inquiry offends the presumption of regularity we owe the Executive. The judgment of the District Court should be reversed."
"The court's erroneous decision in this case is bad enough, as it unjustifiably interferes with the 2020 census," he warned. "But the implications of today's decision are broader. With today's decision, the court has opened a Pandora's box of pretext-based challenges in administrative law."
While the question over whether the Executive Branch can add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census still seems in debate, SCOTUS did indicate that Congress could include such a question themselves, stating, “The Enumeration Clause permits Congress, and by extension the Secretary [of Commerce], to inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire.”
However, though ultimate issue of the citizenship question remains unsettled, for now at least, it seems “because illegal aliens shouldn’t be counted in a census used to draw electoral maps” isn’t a good enough reason for the Supreme Court.