- 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)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.