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SCOTUS Poised to OK Census Change      04/24 06:20

   Despite evidence that millions of Hispanics and immigrants could go 
uncounted, the Supreme Court's conservative majority seemed ready Tuesday to 
uphold the Trump administration's plan to inquire about U.S. citizenship on the 
2020 census in a case that could affect American elections for the next decade.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite evidence that millions of Hispanics and 
immigrants could go uncounted, the Supreme Court's conservative majority seemed 
ready Tuesday to uphold the Trump administration's plan to inquire about U.S. 
citizenship on the 2020 census in a case that could affect American elections 
for the next decade.

   There appeared to be a clear divide between the court's liberal and 
conservative justices in arguments in a case that could affect how many seats 
states have in the House of Representatives and their share of federal dollars 
over the next 10 years. States with a large number of immigrants tend to vote 

   Three lower courts have so far blocked the plan to ask every U.S. resident 
about citizenship in the census, finding that the question would discourage 
many immigrants from being counted . Two of the three judges also ruled that 
asking if people are citizens would violate the provision of the Constitution 
that calls for a count of the population, regardless of citizenship status, 
every 10 years. The last time the question was included on the census form sent 
to every American household was 1950.

   Three conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, 
had expressed skepticism about the challenge to the question in earlier stages 
of the case, but Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh had been 
silent, possibly suggesting a willingness to disrupt the administration's plan.

   However, over 80 minutes in a packed courtroom, neither Roberts nor 
Kavanaugh appeared to share the concern of the lower court judges who ruled 
against the administration.

   Kavanaugh, the court's newest member and an appointee of President Donald 
Trump, suggested Congress could change the law if it so concerned that the 
accuracy of the once-a-decade population count will suffer. "Why doesn't 
Congress prohibit the asking of the citizenship question?" Kavanaugh asked near 
the end of the morning session.

   Kavanaugh and the other conservatives were mostly silent when Solicitor 
General Noel Francisco, the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, defended 
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add the citizenship question. Ross 
has said the Justice Department wanted the citizenship data, the detailed 
information it would produce on where eligible voters live, to improve 
enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

   Lower courts found that Ross' explanation was a pretext for adding the 
question, noting that he had consulted early in his tenure with Stephen Bannon, 
Trump's former top political adviser and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, the 
former Kansas secretary of state.

   The liberal justices peppered Francisco with questions about the 
administration plan, but they would lack the votes to stop it without support 
from at least one conservative justice.

   "This is a solution in search of a problem," Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the 
court's lone Hispanic member, said of Ross' decision.

   Justice Elena Kagan chimed in that "you can't read this record without 
sensing that this need was a contrived one."

   Roberts appeared to have a different view of the information the citizenship 
question would produce.

   "You think it wouldn't help voting rights enforcement?" Roberts asked New 
York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who was representing states and 
cities that sued over Ross' decision.

   Underwood and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dale Ho said the 
evidence showed the data would be less accurate. Including a citizenship 
question would "harm the secretary's stated purpose of Voting Rights Act 
enforcement," Ho said.

   Census Bureau experts have concluded that the census would produce a more 
accurate picture of the U.S. population without a citizenship question because 
people might be reluctant to say if they or others in their households are not 
citizens. Federal law requires people to complete the census accurately and 

   The Supreme Court is hearing the case on a tight timeframe, even though no 
federal appeals court has yet to weigh in. A decision is expected by late June, 
in time to print census forms for the April 2020 population count.

   The administration argues that the commerce secretary has wide discretion in 
designing the census questionnaire and that courts should not be 
second-guessing his action. States, cities and rights groups that sued over the 
issue don't even have the right to go into federal court, the administration 
says. It also says the citizenship question is plainly constitutional because 
it has been asked on many past censuses and continues to be used on smaller, 
annual population surveys.

   Gorsuch, also a Trump appointee, also noted that many other countries 
include citizenship questions on their censuses.

   Douglas Letter, a lawyer representing the House of Representatives, said the 
census is critically important to the House, which apportions its seats among 
the states based on the results. "Anything that undermines the accuracy of the 
actual enumeration is immediately a problem," Letter said, quoting from the 
provision of the Constitution that mandates a decennial census.

   Letter also thanked the court on behalf of Speaker Nancy Pelosi for allowing 
the House to participate in the arguments.

   "Tell her she's welcome," Roberts replied. 


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