Incompetence is the Trump administration’s finest feature.
Shortly after taking office, the White House hatched a plot to bias the 2020 Census in the GOP’s favor by adding a query about citizenship status to the Census questionnaire. The government’s own researchers believe that such a question would likely depress immigrants’ participation, thereby under-counting the populations of areas where many immigrants live — areas that just so happen to lean Democratic. That in turn could cost blue states Electoral College votes and House seats after redistricting. Meanwhile, the collection of official data on citizenship status could enable red states to redraw state legislative districts on the basis of eligible voters — rather than total population — a move that would further diminish the political representation of left-leaning areas.
There was nothing Democrats could do to stop a competent Republican administration from executing this scheme. The Executive branch has vast discretion to conduct the Census as it sees fit — or at least, so the Supreme Court’s five conservative justices believe. All Donald Trump and his allies had to do to get the question on the Census was avoid telling provable lies about their intentions.
Instead, they claimed that they wanted to add the question for the purpose of better enforcing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (an act that the administration’s first attorney general openly disliked) — and then left a giant paper trail revealing that their true intention was to increase the political influence of “Non-Hispanic Whites.” Thus, last week, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the Court’s four liberals in ruling that the White House could not add the citizenship question to the Census — without first providing a halfway credible rationale. Roberts emphasized that he had no objection to the question in and of itself.
It was unclear how the administration would respond to this ruling. Earlier this week, Trump suggested that he might delay the Census until a new rationale could be prepared. But the Constitution mandates that the population count take place in 2020, and the deadline for dispersing forms was fast approaching.
Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, the administration admitted it had run out of time: The Department of Justice ordered the printing of Census forms without the citizenship question.
Say what you want about Trump, but at least he could never make the trains run on time.