The Supreme Court’s ruling Monday night that Trump’s commerce secretary doesn’t have to explain under oath his reason for adding what some say is a racist question to the 2020 Census was a major victory for the president. To perhaps no one’s surprise, Justice Clarence Thomas was reportedly among the judges’ leading voices with the dissenting opinion that overturned a lower court’s prior ruling that sided with immigrant-rights activists.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved the addition of a Census question that asked if the person filling out the form was an American citizen. The pushback was immediate, labeling the move as a form of racism that would simplify the targeting non-citizens Trump’s anti-immigration and pro-deportation government. A federal judge ultimately ruled Ross should be deposed over the question, but Monday night’s ruling ended any thoughts of that notion.
“Two justices – Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas – dissented in part to make clear that they would have absolved other government officials as well from what they termed an ‘inquisition,’” USA Today reported.
More than two dozen cities and states filed lawsuits to try to remove the question. A trial had already been scheduled to start Nov. 5 – the day before Election Day – in New York.
Monday night’s decision wasn’t a total victory for Trump. While the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ rulings on the Census question, “The administration’s request to temporarily block other lower court orders for the lawsuits, however, were not successful,” NPR reported. “The Supreme Court is allowing the plaintiffs’ attorneys to question Justice Department official John Gore, who leads the department’s civil rights division that the administration says needs the citizenship question to better enforce the Voting Right Act. Document requests from the plaintiffs can also move forward as the start date for the first potential trial over the citizenship question draws closer.”
The ruling also paved the way for the president to further enforce his immigration laws that have disproportionately affected Black and brown non-U.S. citizens; policies that have torn families apart at the border, separating thousands of children from parents with no real plan in place to reunite them all.
“President Trump is adding the citizenship question into his toxic stew of racist rants and draconian policies in order to stoke fear,” Sarah Brannon, a managing attorney with the ACLU, said in June.
The ruling was also so crucial because the Census is used to tally an accurate headcount of people living in the U.S. But now, with the renewed threat of surveillance and deportation, it was doubtful many, if any, noncitizens would participate. Of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, just about 600,000 of them were Black, according to the most recent statistics by the Migration Policy Institute.
The consequences of not having full Census participation could be catastrophic for cities, states, businesses, households and, of course, individuals, according to the Brookings Institute.
“Without an accurate Census, many states and cities will be denied the full funding they deserve and need, and the federal government will have to fly blind for a decade across a range of important areas,” the think tank wrote in a blog post last year when talk of the 2020 Census hit a fever pitch.
But it was the overall racial implications for Black people in particular that were tough to ignore. NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson summed them neatly in an op-ed he wrote for NewsOne in March.
“In the 200 plus years since its first inception, the United States census has often provided a racist, biased and erroneous count of people of color in America,” Johnson wrote. “If care is not taken, the 2020 Census is gearing up to be much of the same.”
Famous last words.