Chalk one up for the rule of law and judicial review. Give credit to Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for calling out Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for coming up with an explanation for the census question that did not match the facts (for lying, in other words). Give credit to the Justice Department lawyers who refused to lie and pursue spurious arguments in court in violation of their ethical obligations. And thank the two district court judges who refused to let a new squad of less ethically upright attorneys take over the case without explaining why. It took all of these people to force President Trump to abandon his scheme to add a citizenship question to the census.
Sure, like he always does in the Rose Garden when he loses (e.g., on the shutdown), he insisted they’d find citizenship information elsewhere. Well, that is precisely what critics said: There was no justification for adding it to the census questionnaire.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) crowed in a written statement, ”The president’s retreat on adding the misguided citizen question to the census was long overdue and is a significant victory for democracy and fair representation. Every person must be counted and no one should be intimidated by the president and his capricious behavior.”
Election lawyer Rick Hasen cautioned, “Sure it is not all good news. Four Justices were willing to go along with this charade. Roberts’ majority opinion created an easy path for inclusion of the citizenship question in future decades, so long as the government learns to lie better. . . . And attorney general William [P.] Barr further lied when he said that the Administration would have won its lawsuits, if only they had more time.” (Trump also lied when he said other data would tell them exactly how many illegal immigrants are here.) But nevertheless, as Hasen said, a win is a win.
Sure, the litigants, activists and ordinary Americans who fought the administration on this issue should enjoy the victory. “This is an extraordinary victory for the rule of law under an administration that so often seems set against it,” says law professor and author Joshua Matz. “At long last, after over a year of scorched-earth litigation tactics, courts held this administration to account and refused to blindly accept its most obvious lies. And rather than blunder forward or seek to whitewash its true goal — advantaging Republicans and non-Hispanic whites at the polls — the administration caved.”
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that it took a lot of people a lot of time and a lot of money to call the administration’s bluff. Had the DOJ lawyers thrown up their hands or the litigants run out of resources or the district courts lost their nerve, the result could have been very different. There is a huge burden on every single person to do their part in preserving our democracy.
It’s easy to grow weary from the fight, and the sheer number of assaults on the Constitution can be exhausting. As Matz notes, “While the battle is won, a war still rages for the health of our democracy and for the right of all persons to be counted in elections. Trump has now made clear that he intends to escalate efforts to rig the democratic process in ways designed to keep Democrats out of power, even when they receive majority support.”
In other words, we need to watch the administration like a hawk and use all resources to preserve a full and fair census, which will determine the apportionment of congressional seats and hundreds of billions in funding.