The Atlantic

Is the Citizenship Question Dead?

The Supreme Court wants the real reason for census change, and the government is running out of time to give it.
Source: Carlos Barria / Reuters

“Our review is deferential, but we are ‘not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a majority of the Supreme Court today in Department of Commerce v. New York, the closely watched case testing whether the Trump administration could add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire.

The chief justice was quoting not a Supreme Court ruling but an opinion by the late Henry Friendly, a legendary judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals—for whom Roberts clerked after graduating from law school. Some years ago, I saw Roberts speak feelingly about the influence of Friendly on his life. He could have written that sentence a lot of ways; he brought his respected mentor in to tell Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who pushed for the citizenship question, “I didn’t want to be dragged into this, but the shamelessness of your lies is too much even for me to take.”

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