Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts seems to tell the Trump administration in the U.S. Census citizenship case: "Come on. This is your story? Really? You have a right to do this, but you've got to make it look legit."
Roberts wrote the surprise 5-4 ruling that says Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross didn't offer the administration's real reasons for pushing to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
Even some of the most vocal supporters of the Census question acknowledge its logic as a political move.
Critics say the change will discourage people in immigrant communities from answering Census questions, so they won't be counted, which could shift representation and resources to GOP strongholds.
The response from the “pro-question” side is: All people are obligated and invited to fill out the census, and they're not supposed to live here illegally, and the feds have a reasonable right to ask.
In the view of many Americans and who come at this issue convinced that the nation is severely drained by foreigners with no documents, adding this question seems very little to ask. The citizenship box was included on standard Census forms before 1950.
Those in the Trump White House, who spend lots of time screaming about illegal immigration, treat this case as a priority.
But what they told the court when challenged on it was ruled a deceitful dodge.
Ross offered the "pretext," as Roberts called it, that the question was being added at the "request" of the Justice Department to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Their officials use Census data in their enforcement, you see.
Unfortunately, Ross's emails exposed a “significant mismatch between the decision the secretary (of commerce) made and the rationale he provided,” Roberts declared. "The VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.
"We are not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.'"
Wow. Could the president's lawyers have insulted Roberts’ intelligence?
Not everyone in the court's controlling faction thought the administration's little legal fabrication mattered.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a fellow Republican, wrote in dissent: “To put the point bluntly, 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."
Trump's own reaction to the ruling, which sends the decision back to a lower court, made the "voting rights" canard look even more far-fetched.
"I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census," he tweeted, "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. "
Notice he didn't mention the purportedly urgent enforcement needs of his Justice Department.
Nor did he bother to defend the integrity of his commerce secretary.
After more huffing and puffing, the president may still get his way from the courts.
Just not yet, and not from a clearly unbowed Roberts, who of course knew he’d have the court’s four liberals on his side this time.