Dear Commons Community,
Yesterday the US Supreme Court handed Republicans a key victory by refusing to halt even the most extreme gerrymandered maps while Democrats may have a win at least for the time-being on blocking the citizenship question from the census. Here is an analysis courtesy of the New York Times:
“The rulings by the Supreme Court on Thursday in bitterly contested battles over partisan gerrymandering and the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census grappled with issues fundamental to the nation’s democracy: How power is allocated, and ultimately, how much of a voice the American people have in selecting their leaders.
But far from settling these questions, the court has unleashed even higher-pitched and partisan struggles over once-settled aspects of the country’s governance, placing greater pressures on the nation’s political system.
Gerrymandered maps were once part of an unspoken agreement between rivals that pressing for political advantage was, within limits, part of the electoral game. But in recent years Republicans, aided by sophisticated mapmaking software, have given themselves near-unbreakable power across the country.
Now, with a green light from the justices, the party has an opportunity to lock in political dominance for the next decade in many of the 22 states where it controls both the legislature and the governor’s office.
The decision will almost certainly force Democrats, who control 14 statehouses, to reconsider their belated crusade against gerrymandered maps and begin drawing their own — an eat-or-be-eaten response to Republican success in gaming the redistricting process.
“Expect the abuse to be supercharged,” said Justin Levitt, an associate dean at Loyola Law School and a Justice Department official during the Obama administration. “Now the answer will be, ‘It happens everywhere.’ Expect the disease to spread.”
The justices also did not resolve what to do about adding a citizenship question to the census, which until recently was regarded as a nonpartisan ritual every 10 years for the country to obtain an accurate head count of its residents. Now it is the object of a legal firefight over charges that it is being perverted for partisan gain.
Adding a citizenship question to the census could have a profound impact on American politics, as the country relies on population figures from the census to divvy up seats in the House of Representatives and to draw political maps at all levels of government.
The Census Bureau itself has said that adding the question would lead more noncitizens and minority residents to avoid being counted. Because most of these people live in predominantly Democratic areas, the undercount would weaken Democratic representation in states with large numbers of noncitizens, and skew the allotment of billions of federal dollars away from those areas.
But by ruling that the Trump administration offered no credible reason for proposing the question, the justices placed a daunting hurdle before the government, which must print questionnaires and other 2020 census documents within months, if not weeks, to keep the head count on schedule.
The administration would have to create a new rationale for adding the question and win the approval of a skeptical district court, which ruled that its stated reason for the question — to better enforce the Voting Rights Act — was a bald contrivance hiding some other motive.
“We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today,” said Kelly Laco, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which she said “will continue to defend this administration’s lawful exercises of executive power.”
The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, did not have an immediate comment.
After the ruling on the citizenship question, President Trump took to Twitter to question why his administration was not allowed to ask what he called “a basic question” and said he was inquiring into whether the census could be postponed so that the justices could make a “final and decisive decision” on the matter.
But the issue could take months to resolve.
A second census lawsuit was reopened this month in federal court in Maryland, where opponents of the question claim that new evidence proves that the question is an unconstitutional effort to discriminate against Hispanics for political gain. That proceeding, which the justices made no effort to stop on Thursday, appears likely to stretch at least into late August.
In theory, the government could clear those barriers, appeal any adverse rulings and still tack the question onto the 2020 questionnaire, Cary Coglianese, a law professor who directs the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania, said on Thursday. “But I struggle to see the path by which the citizenship question ends up on the 2020 census form,” he added.
In their rulings on Thursday, the justices stated pointedly that their decisions were legal opinions, not political ones.”
Lose one – win one!
Increasingly it looks like this is the John Roberts’ Supreme Court!