The Census ball is now very much in California’s court. It turns out, President Trump’s bald effort to punish California for providing Hillary Clinton with her 2016 popular vote majority has been ended by a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June tossing the issue of a citizenship question back to a lower court that previously nixed it.
Trump at first insisted he would defy the court and insert the question anyhow, but pulled back last week, saying he will get all the citizenship information he wants from other government sources. That, of course, is what Census Bureau officials about one year ago advised him to do.
For weeks after the Supreme Court ruled, Trump fostered doubt about what he would do. But there’s no guesswork about what could happen if that query is included. Since 1949, Census officials have said using the question widely would cause vast undercounts of undocumented immigrants who don’t trust Census assurances of confidentiality and fear deportation as a consequence of participating.
Trump’s minions lied consistently throughout their legal appeals about why they wanted the question in. They said it was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has never been enforced under Trump. New evidence emerging since the lower court decision ruled the question out, in the form of previously secret emails, plainly showed the motive for the question was entirely political.
The Supreme Court’s decision hinged on the obvious disgust of Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee of ex-President George W. Bush, over lies told by Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross. Roberts wrote that those falsehoods demanded he cast a rare vote with the high court’s four-member liberal minority, possibly deep-sixing the question.
Meanwhile, the Constitution requires every human being in the country be counted, citizen or not.
Ross insisted he sought to insert the citizenship query used before 1950 because of the Justice Department’s desire. The prior lack of Voting Rights Act enforcement made that statement enough of a lie to offend Roberts.
You have free articles remaining.
There was immediate speculation that Trump backed down on the question because defying a Supreme Court order would almost automatically bring impeachment, and might even be offensive enough for Senate Republicans to convict him. For sure, it would have been a threat to constitutional government.
Trump had also speculated about delaying the Census, contrary to law and precedent, but backed off that, too. All this leaves any Census-driven parts of California’s future up to Californians. If a citizenship question spurs millions of the undocumented to refuse participation, this state could lose at least one seat in Congress, one or two electoral votes in presidential elections and many billions of federal dollars earmarked for housing, highways, sewers, public schools and much more.
But now an undercount will happen only if Californians let it, as they did 10 years ago. Most Census experts believe low participation rates caused at least 1 million to 2 million Californians not to be counted in the 2010 Census. A repeat would make life more difficult and less consequential for many Californians.
So Californians, whether citizens or not, must step up now and protect their own interests. Anticipating something like today’s scene, ex-Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators last year allocated $90.3 million for Census information and outreach.
That’s about $3 for every California resident, which the state will spend encouraging participation and discouraging anyone who’s thinking of hiding from federal Census takers. Brown and his allies considered spending more than $90 million on TV and newspaper ads, social media and community meetings — a prudent investment that promises to produce far more in new money than it costs.
The effort is needed because, even without the decrements brought by a Census undercount, Trump already allots an average of about 6 billion less federal dollars each year to California than it got under ex-President Barack Obama.
The one way to change this kind of steady mistreatment, minimization and denigration of California while Trump holds office is to maximize the state’s Census count. That will happen only if virtually all Californians participate.