Donald Trump Blasted by Legal Experts for Trying to Defy the Constitution Over Threat to Delay 2020 Census

President Trump on Thursday lashed out at the Supreme Court for its unfavorable ruling on the administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, threatening to "delay" the decennial survey despite a clear constitutional and legislative mandate.

Legal experts balked at the president's suggestion, saying it could contradict key Justice Department legal arguments or, at its most extreme, disregard the U.S. Constitution.

"Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020," Trump tweeted at 2:40 a.m. Friday from Osaka, Japan. "I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter."

A White House spokesperson declined to clarify whether Trump was referring to a delay of the printing of the census or a delay of the execution of the survey itself.

Cameron Kerry, who served as the general counsel of the Commerce Department from 2009 to 2013, told Newsweek that the implementation timetable for the census is fixed "by a number of benchmarks" prescribed by federal law.

The Constitution mandates that the census be conducted every 10 years, and the 1954 Census Act codified a rule requiring the survey to be completed on April 1. Depending on the meaning of the president's tweets, a delay could complicate administrative tasks related to the census or run afoul of federal law.

"The census is compelled by the Constitution, and the statue says that it must be done by a particular date," Kerry said. "I have certainly interpreted other delegations of authority to the Secretary of Commerce broadly, giving the secretary broad discretion. I do not see broad discretion in this section."

Vanita Gupta, who was head of the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter that a delay would contradict the urgency Trump administration lawyers conveyed to the Supreme Court when arguing the case.

"It'll be yet another citizenship question lie," she wrote.

Renato Mariotti, a former Justice Department prosecutor, wrote that any attempt to push the survey beyond 2020 "would be unconstitutional."

Another citizenship question-related case is currently playing out in Maryland, where plaintiffs are making a separate argument that the question would violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because of the racially discriminatory way they allege it was conceived.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck noted that the president's sudden reversal of his own administration's arguments "won't exactly help the government's credibility."

Should the Census Bureau fail to comply with its April 1 deadline or other intermediate due dates, Kerry said that the "appropriate thing to do would be to seek injunctive relief to compel the secretary to do the survey on time."

"Certainly, with the facts that I've seen, I agree with the Supreme Court," he said. "The government has not been persuasive, and I think the evidence that's emerging is bearing out that this decision was an attempt to undo Evenwel v. Abbott," the Supreme Court decision allowing states to draw legislative districts based on their total population and not just the number of voting-eligible residents.

Kerry told Newsweek that he couldn't recall a recent time when the development of the census has been so politicized, emphasizing that a task "that has the constitutional import of the census requires you to carry it out as a sacred duty."

"That's very much how we approached it and how it should be approached," he added. "I don't think the president has a clue about the Constitution or the laws of the United States. He makes it up as he goes along."

An undercount could prove quite dire for states with large Hispanic populations, such as California, Texas, New York and Florida. If a citizenship question discourages the participation of Hispanic U.S. residents, those states could see their representation in the House of Representatives dwindle and potentially lose access to the full measure of federal funds they would otherwise be entitled to.

JAPAN-G20-SUMMIT
US President Donald Trump arrives at Osaka International Airport in Osaka on June 27, 2019. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty
Donald Trump Blasted by Legal Experts for Trying to Defy the Constitution Over Threat to Delay 2020 Census | Politics