By Robert A. Vella
The U.S. Supreme Court announced two big decisions today on the 2020 census and partisan gerrymandering. The first blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census while lower courts reconsider the case in the light of recent disclosures which exposed the government’s dishonest intentions. The real purpose of the question was to undercount the total U.S. population, by making undocumented residents fearful of participating in the census, which would shift political representation in Congress from Democrats to Republicans while also cutting federal funding to states having higher numbers of ethnic minorities. Since logistical deadlines for making changes to the census are near, it appears less likely now that the citizenship question will be included. The second decision declared that federal courts should not get involved with partisan gerrymandering in the states even though it has a direct and deleterious effect on the U.S. House of Representatives. This 5-4 ruling by the court’s conservative majority, which essentially disassociates the Supreme Court from any responsibility to support democracy and proportional representation in government, is as egregious as its 2010 Citizens United decision which empowered big money over people in the political and electoral process. Those states which have addressed the gerrymandering issue internally (e.g. Pennsylvania) are unaffected by this ruling. States which tried to solve the problem in federal court (e.g. Maryland and North Carolina) are now hamstrung by it. Last night, the first Democratic Party presidential debate was held which will conclude tonight to accommodate the large number of candidates. I only watched some of it, so I’ll limit my commentary. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren seemed to command the stage with her convincingly populist presence, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio was also forceful in that regard. Ohio congressman Tim Ryan appropriately warned Democrats about ignoring working class people which Donald Trump successfully wooed in 2016. Washington state governor Jay Inslee (where I live) appeared overeager in his attempts to separate himself from the other candidates which didn’t come across very well and may have been an act of desperation to save his candidacy. Former HUD secretary Julián Castro focused on immigration and argued with other candidates – particularly former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke – over the nature of U.S. law. Finally, I’ve included some links to the political headlines coming from the G20 summit meeting in Japan.
Big SCOTUS decisions
The court said the administration’s explanation for adding such a question is insufficient, and sent it back to the lower courts for further consideration. The ruling marks a setback for the administration, but the issue is not yet resolved.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision with the court’s conservative in the majority and liberals in dissent, ruled in a decision with nationwide implications that judges do not have the ability to curb the practice known as partisan gerrymandering. The court sided with Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and Democratic legislators in Maryland who drew electoral district boundaries that were challenged by voters.
The ruling, authored by Chief justice John Roberts, delivered a huge setback to election reformers who had hoped the court would intervene over a growing trend in which parties that control state legislatures use the electoral district line-drawing process to cement their grip on power and dilute the voting power of people who support the rival party.
Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court’s liberals, took the unusual step of reading her dissent from the bench.
“For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities,” Kagan said.
First Democratic debate
The law, referred to as Section 1325, became a flash point in the first of two Democratic presidential debates this week, when Julián Castro, a former secretary of housing and urban development, challenged his rivals to back its repeal. The measure’s little-known history did not arise on Wednesday night in Miami, where the first cohort of Democrats vying to compete against President Trump took the stage. No one mentioned Sen. Coleman Livingston Blease.
But the legacy of the criminal lawyer and neo-Confederate politician from South Carolina hangs over the 2020 election. Blease was the architect of Section 1325, the part of Title 8 of the United States Code that makes it a misdemeanor to enter the country without authorization.
The statute, adopted in 1929, is the basis for Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which his administration used to justify separating families at the border.