Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts surprised virtually all court watchers by killing the Trump Administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. In so doing he saved his court, and the nation, from the embarrassing situation of validating the lies by which the administration had tried to justify this question.
The court noted that there is no constitutional prohibition on adding this question that was on every census form from 1880 to 1950 and remains on government surveys today. But the Administration was not being honest as to why it wanted the question.
The Department of Commerce, which promoted the addition of the citizenship question, said it was necessary in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Anyone familiar with that rationale knows this is nonsense; the VRA has worked just fine for decades without it.
The real reason was that immigration hard liners in the Administration want to run illegal aliens out of the country, and so do not want them to counted as American residents for representational or budgetary purposes. But this reasoning is so racist as to be blatantly unconstitutional, and so Commerce knew could never admit its real motives.
The Supreme Court called their bluff. As the public record came to light, it became clear that a parallel political motive was to help Republicans in future redistrictings by lowering the count of people most often found in heavily Democratic districts. A majority of the court would not play along with this, and Chief Justice Roberts remembered the wise advice of Justice Felix Frankfurter from decades past; keep the court out of the political thicket.