Trump succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to bypass the normal appeal process and take the case immediately: Our view
Republican strength over the past decade has relied in part on the unique circumstances of 2010, when an electoral romp at the state level afforded the GOP the power to grotesquely gerrymander congressional districts to its advantage. But this power is likely to be limited in the coming decade. With a Census scheduled for next year and redistricting the following year, the Republican Party is looking at a distinctly different landscape.
Several states badly gerrymandered by Republicans after the 2010 Census now have Democratic governors with veto powers. (Maryland, the state most grotesquely gerrymandered to Democrats’ advantage, meanwhile, just re-elected its Republican governor.)
What’s more, state ballot initiatives limiting gerrymandering have been passing whenever they have been on the ballot. Last November four states — Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah — approved such measures, and the Supreme Court could act against gerrymandering as well.
In its uniquely crass and cynical way, the Trump administration has been looking for ways to offset the party’s declining power to gerrymander. It thinks it has found one in a plan to mess up the Census so much that it would undercount people in big cities and other Democratic-leaning areas, giving them less representation in Congress and state legislatures.
The idea is to intimidate immigrants by asking on the Census whether each person in a household is a U.S. citizen.
Fortunately, two federal judges have seen Trump’s plan for what it is — an appalling power grab designed to maintain Republicans in office and withhold funds from places Trump doesn’t like. As one of them, Judge Jesse Furman observed in his ruling last month: “Ours is a government of laws, and not of men.”
But the Trump administration is pressing on. Last month, it succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to bypass the normal appeal process and take the matter up immediately. With only time for one more level of review before Census work must begin, the court reasoned that the case might as well be decided at the top.
The truth is the Census Bureau does ask about citizenship, as well as a whole lot of other things, in something known as the American Community Survey. This survey sent to about 3.5 million households is what used to be known as the “long form” Census questionnaire. Now it is done every year, not once a decade.
The actual Census is short. It asks the name, age, gender and race of each person living in a household. Its purpose is to get an accurate head count of all people living in America, regardless of their legal status. This count is used to determine both political representation and the amount of federal and state money a community receives.
Latinos in particular have been reluctant to participate, even in light of massive campaigns by nonprofit groups designed to encourage them to do so. In some cases, this has been because at least one person in a household is undocumented. In others, it has been driven by general distrust of all things government.
With the Trump administration pushing the citizenship question, the level of trust is at a low. A poll conducted for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials found that 79 percent of Latino registered voters worry the Census Bureau could share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies.
In addition to the trust issue is the one of mechanics of a mammoth and complex undertaking such as the Census. Each question means roughly 325 million answers. Without adding considerable resources, this would drive down compliance, disproportionately in communities that don’t fully understand the need for an accurate count.
The Trump administration, of course, recognizes all that. And so should the Supreme Court.
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