Today’s Must-Read: Linda Greenhouse: “The Supreme Court, the Census Case and the Truth: Will the justices be the administration’s enablers or form a firewall against its lies?”

Linda Greenhouse NYT column:

But if the plaintiff states are going to lose, it seems to me that it matters greatly how they lose. What was depressing and even scary about the April 23 argument was the disingenuous lengths to which the conservative justices were willing to go to tilt the case in the administration’s favor. They played dumb. They pretended not to know what they surely knew: that the citizenship question will depress the census count in a way that is predictably harmful and that the administration’s brief concealed the real story of how the citizenship question made its way onto the census. In other words, I have enough respect for the justices’ basic intelligence, which includes the ability to read the same briefs and opinions that I read, to conclude that they know full well what game is afoot.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the transcript. The conservative justices were at pains to challenge the very idea that the citizenship question could depress noncitizens’ response rates, despite the fact that numerous Census Bureau studies have shown that to be the case. “What jumps out,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood of New York, “is the fact that citizens and noncitizens differ in a lot of respects other than citizenship. They differ in socioeconomic status. They differ in education. They differ in language ability.” And so, he went on, “I don’t think you have to be much of a statistician to wonder about the legitimacy of concluding” that the response rate would go down “because of this one factor.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch weighed in. “There could be multiple reasons why individuals don’t complete the form.” He continued: “We don’t have any evidence disaggregating the reasons why the forms are left uncompleted. What do you do with that? I mean, normally we would have a regression analysis that would disaggregate the potential cause and identify to a 95th percentile degree of certainty what the reason is that persons are not filling out this form and we could attribute it to this question. We don’t have anything like that here. So what are we supposed to do about that?”

Justice Alito then returned to his theme. There were “many factors that could explain a decline when you’re distinguishing between citizens and noncitizens,” he said.

When Ms. Underwood started to explain that the Census Bureau studies had controlled for the differences, Justice Gorsuch broke in. “It’s fair to say we don’t have this isolated, though, isn’t it?” he asked.

At this point in the transcript, Justice Stephen Breyer’s exasperation with his colleagues almost jumps off the page. “There are a million factors,” he said with evident sarcasm. “There are pet dogs, you know. I mean, there are cats.”


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