Report: Chief Justice Roberts switched sides on census citizenship question

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts originally favored the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but at some point, he reversed his position, CNN reported, citing unnamed sources. 

The sources didn’t say why Roberts changed his mind or at what point the change took place, according to CNN. The story seems to make sense, however, because there are some records of early oral arguments where Roberts seems to indicate that a citizenship question should be permissible.

In April, for instance, Roberts pointed out that demographic questions have been added to the census many times in the past. In his decision, he also rejected the argument that the Constitution and federal statutes prohibited a citizenship question.

But in the end, Roberts sided with the four more liberal justices to say that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s reasons for adding the question were not sufficient to grant the request. The court seemed to think that Ross had ulterior motives for the request and declined to grant it, sending the case back to the lower court.

Evolution of Opinion

Revelations in the census case after the April arguments may have led to the evolution of Roberts’ opinion about the case. The plaintiffs in the case claimed that they uncovered evidence that officials in the Trump administration, possibly including Ross, conspired to add a citizenship question in order to gain an advantage as redistricting took place.

An appeals court judge in Maryland ruled to allow the evidence to be explored, and some of it was presented to the Supreme Court just before their decision was rendered. It appears that the evidence at the very least damaged Ross’s credibility with Roberts and led him to question the entire decision based on the reasoning behind the request.

The 5-4 decision made Roberts’ vote the deciding one, much like his vote not to strike down Obamacare in 2012. Similarly, in the Obamacare decision, Roberts also appeared to change his mind and side with the liberal justices toward the end of deliberations.

While the Supreme Court in this instance would have allowed the Trump administration to clarify its reasoning for a citizenship question, time constraints didn’t allow for the case to go further and for now, the question has been left off the forms.

Going too far?

Both in 2012 and now, Roberts’ decision to side with the liberal justices was disappointing. Is it really the in Court’s purview to judge Ross’s motives for wanting the question?

It seems to me that the Court should have merely looked at whether the question was permissible, not at whether the reason behind it was to the justices’ liking.

At least this decision wasn’t as circular and convoluted as the Obamacare decision, which seemed to be an effort to side with the current president rather than apply objective legal principles.

In the end, it seems that legal minds as brilliant as those on the Supreme Court can make almost any opinion sound palatable to a fairly uneducated populace that no longer understands the American justice system.

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