A court may not set aside an agency’s policymaking decision solely because it might have been influenced by political considerations or prompted by an Administration’s priorities…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Pundits on both sides of the aisle interpreted as a victory for leftist open-border advocates the complex ruling by the Supreme Court over the Commerce Department‘s inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. census.
But by striking down arguments that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was “arbitrary and capricious” in his decision to include the question, the court in fact delivered a victory to the Trump administration—provided it can outmaneuver activist stall tactics to delay the census.
The Court’s decision on Thursday sent the Department of Commerce v. New York back to the Southern District of New York, leaving the liberal district court to determine whether Ross can provide a “reasoned explanation” in keeping with the Administrative Procedure Act, for including the citizenship question.
The Court rebuked what it characterized as a “contrived” explanation provided by Ross that the measure was done in coordination with the Justice Department to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Instead, the justices contended that Ross’s true aim was pretextual, coming well before he approached the attorney general’s office to provide him with the voting rights rationale.
“The record shows that the Secretary began taking steps to reinstate a citizenship question about a week into his tenure, but it contains no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement in connection with that project,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a unanimous decision that nonetheless received three separate dissents, comprising the objections of all eight other members of the bench.
While casting doubt on Ross’s official explanation, however, the court also upheld the authority of the Commerce secretary to use his discretion in what questions to include of the census.
It thus limited the ability of activist judges in the lower courts to reject his rationale simply because it was politically motivated.
“[A] court may not set aside an agency’s policymaking decision solely because it might have been influenced by political considerations or prompted by an Administration’s priorities,” Roberts wrote.
In essence, the court’s ruling told Ross to admit there were other factors involved in his decision while also asserting that those other factors could not prevent the inclusion of the question.
At several times, the ruling opinion pointedly observed that it was not the court’s place to substitute its own judgment for that of a government agency.
“It is not for us to ask whether his decision was ‘the best one possible’ or even whether it was ‘better than the alternatives,’” wrote Roberts, who criticized the district court and dissenting justices for imposing their own value judgments.
Opponents’ challenge to the decision rested largely on their own political motives—among them, the fear of losing funding and political power if illegal immigrants being harbored in “sanctuary states” declined to be included in the official census count.
The court agreed, saying evidence supported the likelihood that the question would result in fewer responses from illegals.
Even so, it said, that concern did not present a valid legal challenge to Ross’s authority, maintaining that the inclusion of a citizenship question was entirely permissible in the eyes of the law.
“[W]e decline respondents’ invitation to measure the constitutionality of the citizenship question by a standard that would seem to render every census since 1790 unconstitutional,” Roberts wrote.
The question was included on every census up until 1950 when, in order to simplify the process, the Census Bureau began putting it only on a long-form census questionnaire to be completed by a smaller, representative sample of the population.
The Census Bureau then used estimates provided by other agencies to fill in the gaps, but Ross contended that those estimates were not sufficient to provide an accurate count of legal residents.
“Weighing that uncertainty against the value of obtaining more complete and accurate citizenship data, he determined that reinstating a citizenship question was worth the risk of a potentially lower response rate,” Roberts wrote. “That decision was reasonable and reasonably explained, particularly in light of the long history of the citizenship question on the census.”
Although government officials are prevented by law from using the citizenship information collected by the census to enforce immigration policies, Ross can certainly make the case that there is strong national interest in having a thorough count of the number of illegal immigrants residing in the country.
In criticizing Ross’s claims about the Voting Rights Act being his primary motivation, Roberts cited a 1977 opinion that justices were “not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.”
While that may hold true, however, it also means the justices would likely accept the ongoing national emergency and contentious debate over immigration to be a valid reasons on their face for including the question.
Regardless, the race to come up with a more plausible and legally sound rationale for the citizenship question is likely to mean delays for the Census Bureau, which had set next Monday, July 1, as its target to begin printing.
While in Japan at the G20 summit, President Donald Trump weighed in, saying he would seek to push back the deadlines pending a court resolution.