In a blow to the Trump administration Thursday, the Supreme Court did not make a decision on whether a question about citizenship status can be included on the 2020 Census and ruled 5-4 to send it back to the lower courts for additional review. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the left of the Court.
The upshot of the census decision is that Roberts votes with the left to remand to the Commerce Department to provide a non-pretextual explanation for the question. For now, the question is out. It is unclear if there is enough time left to add it back in.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 27, 2019
However, the Court did not find the question to be a violation of the law, but instead didn't receive enough information from the Commerce Department and Secretary Wilbur Ross to make a decision. This leaves the door open for the citizenship question to be included on the census in the future.
"The Secretary’s decision to reinstate a citizenship question is amenable to review for compliance with those and other provisions of the Census Act, according to the general requirements of reasoned agency decision making,"Roberts wrote in his opinion. "At the heart of this suit is respondents’ claim that the Secretary abused his discretion in deciding to reinstate a citizenship question."
"Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision," he continued. "Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency."
Re census citizenship q, what a dumbfounding opinion. SCOTUS says citizenship q is constitutional. SCOTUS says Sec Ross made a reasonable decision to include it, reasonably explained. Yet SCOTUS doesn't allow it bc it doesn't believe in stated rationale https://t.co/zxKNf9WEsN pic.twitter.com/PkRZkdNFag— Benjamin Weingarten (@bhweingarten) June 27, 2019
Meanwhile Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch argue in their dissent the Supreme Court's only role was to determine whether Commerce Secretary Ross was breaking the law by including a question about citizenship. The court found he did not break the law in doing so.
"The Court’s erroneous decision in this case is bad enough, as it unjustifiably interferes with the 2020 census. But the implications of today’s decision are broader. With today’s decision, the Court has opened a Pandora’s box of pretext-based challenges in administrative law," they wrote. "In short, today’s decision is a departure from traditional principles of administrative law. Hopefully it comes to be understood as an aberration—a ticket good for this day and this train only."
"Because the Secretary’s decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census was legally sound and a reasoned exercise of his broad discretion, I respectfully dissent from Part V of the opinion of the Court," they concluded (bolding is mine).
Census forms will be printed on July 1 and due to time constraints and an unlikely review before then, a question about citizenship is unlikely to be included.
This is a breaking story, stay tuned for updates. This post has been updated with additional information.