WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court enters its final week of decisions with two politically charged issues unresolved, whether to rein in political line-drawing for partisan gain and allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Both decisions could affect the distribution of political power for the next decade, and both also may test Chief Justice John Roberts’ professed desire to keep his court of five conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and four liberals appointed by Democrats from looking like the other, elected branches of government. Decisions that break along the court’s political and ideological divide are more likely to generate criticism of the court as yet another political institution.
In addition, the justices could say this week whether they will add to their election-year calendar a test of President Donald Trump’s effort to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation. The court’s new term begins in October.
But the biggest cases by far involve the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the census and two cases in which lower courts found that Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland went too far in drawing congressional districts to benefit their party at the expense of the other party’s voters.
California, Other States Challenging Census Question
The Supreme Court has never invalidated districts on partisan grounds, but the court has kept the door open to these claims. The court has struck down districts predominantly based on race.
In the census case, the Census Bureau’s own experts say that Hispanics and other immigrants are likely to be undercounted if the census questionnaire asks everyone about their citizenship status. The last time the question appeared on the once-a-decade census was in 1950, and even then it wasn’t asked of everyone.
Democratic-led states such as California, along with cities and civil rights groups, are challenging the citizenship case, arguing that the question would take power away from cities and other places with large immigrant populations and reward less populated rural areas. They have more recently pointed to newly discovered evidence on the computer files of a now-dead Republican consultant that they say shows the citizenship question is part of a broader plan to increase Republican power. The administration has said the new allegations lack merit.
Census Results Determine How Seats in House Are Allocated
When the case was argued in April, it appeared that the conservative justices were poised to allow the question to be asked.
Census results determine how seats in the House of Representatives are allocated among the 50 states and how billions of dollars in federal money is distributed. The population count also forms the basis for the redrawing of districts from Congress to local governments that takes place every 10 years.