Author Topic: Census symposium: The unanswered census question  (Read 609 times)

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Census symposium: The unanswered census question
« on: June 28, 2019, 06:13:06 pm »
SCOTUSblog by Kaylan Phillips 6/28/2019

“Are you a citizen of the United States?” It is a simple question that if asked on the 2020 decennial census would provide critical data not available elsewhere that would enhance the enforcement of civil-rights laws. The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the reinstatement of this question on the 2020 census, arguably the most anticipated decision of the term, left more questions than answers. The eight-word question resulted in 92 pages of opinions including three partial dissents. Court-watchers are left wondering what will happen next.

A first read of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the court sounds like a slam-dunk win for the government. As to the constitutional claims, the court acknowledged that the Constitution allows the census to be used “for more than simply counting the population” and held that it is constitutional “to inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire.” One point for the government.

As to the claims under the Administrative Procedure Act, the court held that “[t]he evidence before the Secretary supported [his] decision.” The court explained how the secretary, faced with several options with unknown variables, “opted instead for the approach that would yield a more complete set of data at an acceptable rate of accuracy, and would require estimating the citizenship of fewer people.” In short, the decision to reinstatement the citizenship question is justifiable and reasonable. Two points for the government.

As to the lower court’s finding that the secretary violated the Census Act, the court disagreed. The court determined that the secretary had fulfilled his responsibilities under the Census Act and, even if there was some technical violation, “the error would surely be harmless in these circumstances.” Three points for the government.