By Paul Waldman Opinion writer Washington Post May 30 at 3:10 PM
Asked on Tuesday if he thought he would be impeached, President Trump replied, “I can’t imagine the courts allowing it.” It was a bizarrely ignorant thing to say, since the courts have no say whatsoever when it comes to impeachment.
But this does show how Trump sees the courts — and the Supreme Court in particular — as his ultimate protector. After all, didn’t he put the conservative majority there? What kind of disloyalty would lead them to rule against him on anything?
I raise this point because we just got a blockbuster revelation worthy of a political thriller in the case of the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The Supreme Court has already heard arguments in the case, and we’re awaiting the justices’ ruling.
The administration’s actions have been a parade of lies (including under oath) and bad-faith arguments. But Trump officials are still counting on the court to let them do whatever they want.
Just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, new evidence emerged Thursday suggesting the question was crafted specifically to give an electoral advantage to white Republicans.
The evidence was found in the files of the prominent Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller after his death in August. It reveals that Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ ” and that Trump administration officials purposely obscured Hofeller’s role in court proceedings, lawyers for plaintiffs challenging the question wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman. Furman was one of three federal judges who ruled against the question this year.
The letter drew on new information discovered on hard drives belonging to Hofeller, which were found accidentally by Hofeller’s estranged daughter. Stephanie Hofeller Lizon then shared them with the organization Common Cause for a gerrymandering lawsuit it is pursuing in North Carolina.
The files show that Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting, and then pushed the idea with the Trump administration in 2017, according to the letter to Furman.(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
The context for this is that all along, the Trump administration has maintained the laughable fiction that it wanted to add the citizenship question to enable proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. This broad lie was supported by specific lies, included Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s claim under oath that the question was added to the census at the urging of the Justice Department.
As emails obtained in a lawsuit demonstrated, in fact Ross’s aides implored Justice to write a letter back to them making the request, in order to create what was essentially a false paper trail to support the cover story.
Can they get away with it? It has been obvious from the beginning that they wanted to add the citizenship question because it would make immigrants more likely to refuse to fill out census forms, which would make the communities where they live seem smaller and thereby deprive them of representation and resources, which in turn would enhance the Republican Party’s power. Everyone — Democrat, Republican and Supreme Court justice alike — understands this perfectly well.
The only question is whether the documentary evidence that the administration was adding the question under false pretenses was so overwhelming, so undeniable that not even the Republican justices on the court could ignore it. Given what happened at oral arguments, it appeared the answer was no. The conservatives on the court seemed eager to allow the administration to add the question despite the effect it will have and the administration’s previous lies about it.
So now we have yet more evidence of what they were up to. The purpose of the citizenship question is not to enforce the Voting Rights Act but just the opposite: to take power away from minorities and give it to white voters.
And as Rick Hasen explains, the addition of the citizenship question is also intended to enable a fundamental shift in the way district lines are drawn, to count eligible voters — i.e., adult citizens who have not had their voting rights taken away — instead of total population. That would enable Republican gerrymandering on steroids.
The problem is that rigging the system to give an advantage to Republicans and whites is just fine with the Supreme Court’s conservatives. Don’t forget that in 2013 — when Anthony M. Kennedy was still the court’s swing vote — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote an opinion eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, on the ludicrous grounds that racism was essentially a thing of the past and conservative states could be trusted not to impede the voting rights of African Americans.
So I suspect that Roberts and the other conservatives will open their newspapers and say, “Hmm, it appears that documentary proof has emerged that the Trump administration intended all along for the citizenship question to help them politically by advantaging white voters. And what’s wrong with that?”