The announcement late Tuesday by the Trump administration that it would drop efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is a victory not only for a more accurate census but for the rule of law.
The administration had insisted that it needed to ask everyone across the country next year whether they were U.S. citizens to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, a laughably thin excuse for an administration that cares naught for voting rights.
The truth emerged early on. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the request had come from Justice Department officials.
Asking about citizenship in this fraught political climate is a manifestly bad idea.
But he lied. Government records and testimony eventually revealed that Ross and former Trump whisperer Steve Bannon were behind the effort; Justice officials asked for the question because Ross wanted the department to provide him cover.
And then the nation learned in recent weeks that the impetus for adding the question likely came from a longtime Republican strategist, who saw it as a mechanism to drive down voter participation from immigrant communities — which tend to align with the Democrats — and increase the political power of more conservative white Americans.
The Supreme Court affirmed that Ross’ Voting Rights Act argument was a pretext, and that while the Commerce secretary has the legal authority to make such policy decisions, he can’t, in essence, lie to do it.
The court told the Trump administration it could try again if it cooked up a more believable reason that was based on facts, but the administration apparently decided that hurdle was too high, and gave up.
That means the government now can move forward with the task of finalizing the questionnaire and getting it off to the printer so the count can begin next year as scheduled — and as required by the Constitution.
As the Times editorial board argued more than a year ago, asking about citizenship in this fraught political climate is a manifestly bad idea.
“It is in the nation’s interest to get this count right,” the board noted. “Republican congressional leaders must look beyond the administration’s narrow view of America to ensure that the constitutional mandate is met, and that people across the country — regardless of citizenship, immigration status or political party — receive the congressional representation and federal aid to which they are constitutionally entitled.”
More significantly, the effort sought to politicize something that should be objective: the most accurate count possible of how many people are living in the country.
Score one for the nation.