Census Citizenship Question Highlights Full Gamut Of Trump Admin Abuses
The entire story surrounding the addition of the citizenship question to the decennial census highlights the range of unethical and criminal behavior symptomatic of the Trump administration. It contains a broad spectrum of the various “strategies” that the Trump administration uses to essentially do what it wants, the law be damned.
The Trump administration apparently had two rationales for wanting to add the citizenship question. First, adding the question would help them shape the electorate for the next decade. Simply having the question would prompt fewer responses from a certain subset of voters who are primarily Democratic. In addition, it also prepared the groundwork for allowing states to redistrict based on the number of citizens rather than the total population. But the other rationale, the one which immigrants rights activists most feared, was to illegally use the citizenship data to target undocumented immigrants for detention or deportation.
In order to implement their plan, the administration at least realized the they would have to concoct some realistic cover story for the necessity of the citizenship question rather than admit the real reasons. Under the direction of Wilbur Ross, Jeff Session obliged. Sessions’ DOJ requested the addition of the citizenship question under the pretense that the information would help the department pursue the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). VRA cases often need to show how citizens, rather than a population, are being disenfranchised but the idea that Jeff Sessions was interested in enforcing the VRA doesn’t pass the laugh test. In many ways, it was a perfectly Trumpian excuse and power play which could technically provide legal cover but was farcical to even believe the Trump administration would actually be interested in pursuing.
Of course, the Sessions’ request was a ruse. But the façade needed to be maintained and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross dutifully went up to Capitol Hill in March of 2018 and lied under oath, declaring that the request to add the citizenship question came from the DOJ when it was Ross himself who instigated the process at the urging of Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach. Those two were interested in the electoral impact that the citizenship question would have in the 2020s. Of course, this is not the first time that Ross has managed to lie to government officials and on his financial disclosure forms.
Now it has also been confirmed that the administration has also considered passing the citizenship information gleaned from the census to law enforcement, specifically ICE, confirming the worst fears of immigrants rights activities. The answers to census questions are, by law, supposed to be confidential but the administration is considering using a national security argument to override that confidentiality. This tactic is similar to the bogus national security rationale for the imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs and the deployment of over 5,000 troops to the southern border under the guise of a “national emergency” in a blatant political ploy.
Needless to say, the decision to add the citizenship question precipitated a number of court cases which allowed us to discover the extent of Ross’ and the administration’s lies. It also exposes how the Trump administration is abusing the judicial system, much the same way the GOP has done to ensure gerrymandered districts and roll back Obama-era executive orders and policies.
So far, the Trump administration has gone to the courts twelve times over the last 11 weeks in order to delay or end the NY Attorney General’s case challenging the decision. It won a brief reprieve when the Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision and ruled that Ross himself was exempt from being deposed in that case, even after the evidence that he had lied to Congress had surfaced. In that decision, both Gorsuch and Thomas seemed to indicate skepticism toward NY lawsuit in its entirety, indicating their belief it is a disruption and encroachment to executive power.
More remarkable, however, is the tactic that the administration has taken in fighting this case. They have abandoned the norm of letting decisions percolate their way through the judiciary via the appeals process. At present, they currently have the ongoing case in federal district court, an appeal in the 2nd circuit, and an appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal to the Supreme Court was especially peculiar because it involved the discovery process in the district court case which has already been completed.
Even more unusual, however, was the fact the Court accepted that appeal under an expedited procedure. The Court had already ruled on the discovery process when it exempted Ross from a deposition and already denied a similar motion from the administration. By accepting this latest appeal, it appears that Court is bypassing the Court of Appeals and taking the case directly from the district court, presumably assuming the government will lose the case. And now that the Supreme Court has decided to hear their appeal, the government is now asking the district court to delay its decision until the Supreme Court has ruled. That ruling will not come February or March next year at the very earliest. It is also worth noting that one of the administration officials who was involved in the discussions to pass the citizenship information on to law enforcement is now Justice Alito’s clerk.
It appears that the Trump administration is now pursuing a two-track strategy regarding the census question. It is desperately venue-shopping in order to get a decision it is looking for, taking the unprecedented step of bringing the case to all levels of the federal judiciary at the same time. If it wins in one of those venues, it will immediately drop its other concurrent appeals elsewhere and then slow-walk the appeals from the plaintiffs. That leads to the second part of the strategy, similar to the GOP’s successful efforts to extend their illegal gerrymanders for this entire decade, which is to try and delay a final court decision until the process to include the citizenship question is far enough along that it is unreasonable to be changed in time for its implementation in 2020.
The whole process has revealed the full gamut of Trump administration abuses. The policy itself is originally discriminatory in its intent and probably violates the law. The administration creates a false rationale for its actions in order to hide its discriminatory intent and contemplates using a bogus national security argument to overrule existing law. Its officials lie under oath to Congress and the American people about what has occurred. When caught, the administration abuses the judicial system, simultaneously lodging cases at every level of the federal judiciary in a desperate attempt to find a friendly court in an attempt to end the legal challenge to the policy or delay any decision until the policy has largely been implemented. And, in a final twist, one of the architects of the arguably illegal policy is an important part of the body that will be the final arbiter in the case.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on November 21, 2018.