As the administration desperately moves to rearrange the deck chairs on its ill-conceived plan to turn the 2020 census into a partisan exercise, the sight of Justice Department lawyers struggling to come up with a reason for — or even a description of — what they are doing has become downright surreal.
But even if the administration in the end does not manage to quiz every United States resident on his or her citizenship status, the damage may already have been done.
This is where Utah politicians — who usually experience no greater joy than in pointing to how the federal government has messed everything up — have a chance to stand up and show that they can do better.
They can do that by spending money, time and political capital on efforts to get every homo sapien with a Utah address to answer the census. And by pulling every level of power they can reach to make sure that not one line of that data crosses what is supposedly a firm legal barrier. To see to it that none of the personalized information goes to any federal agency other than the Census Bureau, and that none of it is used to track down people who are in this country without authorization.
Even if it becomes the final decision of the Census Bureau that no questions about citizenship status are actually asked, just having the discussion has likely served to put a chill into the hearts of those who would have reason to worry about it.
As of Friday, the deadline set by a federal judge for the Justice Department to come up with a reason why the citizenship question shouldn’t remain banned from census forms, the president was still producing absurd tweets and uttering odd sentences about how he was determined to get that question either on the regular census forms or on some sort of addendum.
The recent order of the U.S. Supreme Court that banned the citizenship question from the census was, sadly, a bit squishy. Chief Justice John Roberts went to his thesaurus in search of words that sound softer than “liar, liar, pants on fire,” in rejecting the administration’s claim that a citizenship question was requested by the Justice Department because it would be useful in helping the government enforce the Voting Rights Act. The court said the administration might have a good reason for adding the question, but it better come up with one fast.
The case was argued before it came to light that the intellectual history of the question was a knowing attempt to discourage, not just undocumented aliens, but anyone who is related to one, knows one or has the same last name as one, from so much as opening the envelope when the census form comes in the mail. The result would be a deliberately inaccurate census, undercounting mostly Hispanic populations, to the disadvantage of citizens of Hispanic origin and the Democratic candidates they generally vote for.
But such a scheme would also shortchange Republican-heavy states that have significant immigrant populations.
Such as, oh, Utah.
However the court fight comes out, it is in the interest of our members of Congress, our state legislature and our cities, counties and school districts to have a full and accurate census count.