- The Trump administration said it will drop a controversial citizenship question it was pushing to add to the 2020 U.S. census after the Supreme Court put a hold on it.
- Opponents argued that the question was part of a Republican strategy to discourage both legal and illegal immigrants from participating in the census.
- They said it would cause states with high noncitizen populations to lose federal funding and seats in the House and give Republicans significant power to redraw district lines.
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that the question would not be on the census and said that printing had already begun, but President Trump tweeted that the reports were “fake news” and said the department was not dropping its quest to include the question.
Administration Drops Citizenship Question
Officials in the Trump administration confirmed Tuesday that they had dropped their plan to add the controversial citizenship question to the U.S. census.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every 10 years the federal government has to count every person living in the country. For the upcoming census in 2020, the Trump administration wanted to add a question that would ask: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
The question, which was eventually brought before the Supreme Court, was incredibly contentious. Experts described it as the most debated Trump administration initiative to reach the Supreme Court since the travel ban on Muslim countries.
On Thursday, the justices blocked adding the question to the census, arguing that the reason the government wanted the information was “contrived.”
The Court did not strike it down entirely, but said the Trump administration had to come up with a better reason to add the question.
The Trump administration, however, was running out of time to print the 1.5 billion census forms before 2020, having previously said they needed a definitive answer by the end of June.
As a result, the administration decided they did not have enough time to come up with another case, and dropped it altogether.
Why Is It a Big Deal?
The Trump administration argued that adding the citizenship question to the census was necessary to get an idea of how many people were eligible to vote so that they could better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects the voting rights of minorities.
However, critics of the question argued that including it would deter both legal and illegal immigrants from participating in the census, which would significantly skew the data.
When it comes to incorrect census data, the stakes are very high.
The main purpose for the census is to count the population in the states to determine how many seats each one gets in the House of Representatives. The number of seats also sets how many votes each state gets in the electoral college.
That the data is used to decide how much federal funding each state gets, again based on how many people live there. Those funds amount to about $900 billion total, and states need that money for things like public schools, Medicaid, law enforcement, highway repairs, and more.
Due to these two factors, opponents of the question have argued that if immigrants are deterred from participating in the census and not counted properly, states that have higher noncitizen populations would lose both federal funding and seats in the House.
Experts say that could cause a massive shift in political power from states and cities where more noncitizens tend to live, to states with more rural areas.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved putting the question on the census in 2017.
Following that decision, more than two dozen states, cities, and organizations challenged the move in court.
They argued that the Trump administration was not being truthful about their reason for adding the question, and said that it had nothing to do with voting rights.
Instead, they claimed that it was just part of a Republican strategy to shift political boundaries to their advantage because states would use the new census data to redraw their district lines in 2021.
The federal judges who oversaw all three lawsuits ruled in favor of the argument that Ross was not telling the truth about the motives behind the question. That decision was made partly because of certain evidence that was discovered during the trial.
The evidence in question was found on hard drives in the house of a Republican strategist named Thomas Hofeller, who had pushed the administration to add the question before he died last summer.
Hofeller’s hard drives contained a report he had written in 2015 that said adding the citizenship question would give Republicans a significant advantage in the redrawing of district lines.
Another deciding factor for the federal judges was the effectiveness of asking the question. Researchers at the Census Bureau itself even recommended using records from the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
They argued that they would be more accurate and less expensive than adding the citizenship question. The Census Bureau has also said that adding the citizenship question could lead to lower response rates for immigrants and people of color.
Census undercounts of minority groups are already a historic problem. One recent government estimate from the Census Bureau found that around 6.5 million people might not have been counted if the citizenship question had gone on the census forms.
On the other side, the Trump administration argued that asking the question would allow them to get more accurate citizenship data, which would offset any potential harms from lowering the response rate among minority groups and noncitizens.
Many experts have argued that the damage is already done and say fear brought about by the Trump administration’s immigration policies will make it hard for census workers to get accurate data in immigrant neighborhoods even without the question.
As for the census itself, it is set to start in January 2020.
Secretary Ross said in a statement that while he “strongly” disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision, the bureau had already started printing the forms without the question.
Justice Department officials have also confirmed to numerous media outlets that the question will not be on the census forms.
However, Trump seemed to contradict that in a tweet on Wednesday morning, saying, “The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Fox News)
Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access
- The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
- Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
- Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.
Georgia House Approves Election Bill
Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.
The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:
- Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
- Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
- Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
- Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
- Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
- Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
- Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
- Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
- Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
- Limit early voting hours on weekends.
The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.
Arguments For And Against The Bill
The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.
But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.
As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.
From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.
Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.
See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
- Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
- Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
- In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.
Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.
Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.
She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.
Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”
She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress.
Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Others Back Bennett’s Account
Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction.
Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.
Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation
Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.
On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)
House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination
- The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
- Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
- The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.
House Approves Equality Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places.
The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers.
Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.
But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.
A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.
Support and Opposition
Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.
Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.
Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.
Shift in Public Opinion
Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.
“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”
Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.
A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.