“The secretary,” he wrote, “was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the attorney general himself to ask if D.O.J. would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process.”
“Altogether,” the chief justice wrote, “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.”
The trial judge in the case had given the administration another chance to provide an explanation, and the Supreme Court affirmed that ruling.
“In these unusual circumstances,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “the district court was warranted in remanding to the agency, and we affirm that disposition.”
Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined the key part of the chief justice’s opinion.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the majority had done something extraordinary. “For the first time ever,” he wrote, “the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale.”
Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh joined Justice Thomas’s partial dissent.
Justice Thomas said the consequences of the majority decision would be far-reaching. “Now that the court has opened up this avenue of attack,” he wrote, “opponents of executive actions have strong incentives to craft narratives that would derail them.”
Justice Alito filed his own partial dissent.
“To put the point bluntly,” he wrote, “the federal judiciary has no authority to stick its nose into the question whether it is good policy to include a citizenship question on the census or whether the reasons given by Secretary Ross for that decision were his only reasons or his real reasons.”
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