Could partisanship become justification for Census query?

Reading between the lines of two blockbuster Supreme Court rulings this summer, it’s easy to guess what the Trump administration’s next move might be to try to put a citizenship question on the 2020 US Census.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s majority closed one door, ruling that the Trump administration’s rationale for a citizenship question was pretext or “more of a distraction” from the real motive. At nearly the same time, they opened another when Roberts wrote in a separate decision that partisan gerrymandering shouldn’t be overturned by the federal courts.

Partisan gerrymandering – the drawing of legislative districts to the benefit of the mapmaker’s political party – has long been presumed to be at least part of the reason why the Trump administration wanted to ask people if they are US citizens through the Census. One theory goes that asking such a question would make unauthorized immigrants fearful of participating in what is supposed to be a neutral survey of who lives where in America. Depressing the participation of unauthorized immigrants would lower the tally for urban areas, where many live and tend to favor Democrats, diminishing their representation in Congress and state legislatures. A similar result could be achieved if states hypothetically used the Census data to draw districts based on the number of citizens rather than the total population.

To drop the pretext and tell the federal courts that the Trump administration wants to alter the Census to help Republicans would be a brazen power-grab. But who at this point would rule out a brazen power-grab by President Trump? The president and his administration have previously mingled political priorities with official government actions on an enormous scale. Look no further than Trump’s decision to send thousands of troops to the southern border ahead of last fall’s election. Or the big shrug the administration gave to top adviser Kellyanne Conway’s alleged violations of the law designed to prevent government officials from engaging in politics in their official capacities.

Attorney General Bill Barr sees some sort of an opening to put the citizenship question on the Census, but he hasn’t yet said what it is.

“The president is right on the legal grounds. I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified,” Barr said in South Carolina on Monday. The administration will “reach a new decision,” Barr said, even if that means jettisoning the lawyers currently on the case.

A day after Barr’s comments, Judge Jesse Furman blocked the Justice Department from replacing the lawyers on the Census case, but that’s not the administration’s only avenue.

Trump on Friday told reporters he was considering using an executive order to put the citizenship question on the Census, perhaps as an addendum. That move would presumably trigger another legal fight, but that one might not have the same procedural baggage as the ongoing slog where the Justice Department tried and failed to replace its lawyers.

The president last week acknowledged that one reason he wants the citizenship question on the Census is because of the ramifications for redistricting.

“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting,” Trump said. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

The high court decision legalizing partisan gerrymandering did not completely dismantle the guardrails, and left open the possibility of federal court intervention in the case of “excessive” partisan gerrymandering.

“Our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering,” Roberts wrote. “Nor does our conclusion condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void. The States, for example, are actively addressing the issue on a number of fronts.”

The Census, which is conducted by the federal government, is distinct in many ways from redistricting, which is under the jurisdiction of the states and is more directly concerned with the distribution of political power. Still, now that the Supreme Court has sanctioned partisan redistricting, it’s worth watching to see whether the Trump administration will use the court’s permissive stance towards political motivations as it crafts new arguments for placing a citizenship question on the Census.

In Massachusetts, the population relative to the rest of the country has fallen in recent decades, although officials have said they do not expect to lose another seat in Congress after the next Census. That would be a break from the overall trend. Massachusetts had 12 US reps in 1980, but that number has dropped to nine today.

Of the state’s estimated 6.9 million residents, around 500,000 are non-citizens, according to Secretary of State William Galvin. Around five years ago, the Bay State’s population of unauthorized immigrants numbered about 173,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute.



Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby blasts state lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker (whom he labels a “nominal Republican”) for failing to approve a budget on time. But Heath W. Fahle, the director of policy and research at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, offers a more nuanced view, complete with recommendations for speeding up the budget process. (CommonWealth)

The Baker administration decides to spend $86 million of the $100 million it received from the sale of the GE headquarters on housing for middle-income earners. (Boston Globe)

Tufts Health Plan CEO Tom Croswell wants state lawmakers to rein in surprise billing, costly facility fees and drug prices – an issue on which the House and Senate differed in their fiscal 2020 budget bills. (WBUR)

Rep. Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat, has proposed a $10,000 tax credit for Massachusetts businesses that can prove they didn’t make their models in advertisements look thinner, younger or whiter. (WGBH)


The recently unveiled Somerville Community Land Trust attempts to offer a solution for some of the anxiety that homeowners and renters are feeling due to high housing costs and affordable housing shortages. (DigBoston) 


US Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweets a warning to Kellyanne Conway, telling her to keep Pressley’s name out of her “lying mouth.” (Boston Globe)

President Trump loses a Twitter fight, with an appeals court ruling he cannot block people who disagree with his policies. The court held that Trump’s Twitter feed isn’t private but a mechanism for conducting official business and interacting with the public. Here’s the ruling.

US Rep. Lori Trahan ignores the assurances of Vice President Mike Pence and files a bill requiring congressional notification when a migrant dies in US custody. (CommonWealth)

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday rejected the Justice Department’s request to switch its legal team midway through a case challenging the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. (New York Times) 


A group of women, including former Baywatch star Carmen Electra, are suing the Golden Banana strip club in Peabody for using their images without permission. (Daily Item)

With $10 million from Columbia Gas, Merrimack Valley officials are launching an effort to return commerce to the area rocked by natural gas fires, including giving people $500 to shop locally. (Eagle-Tribune)


Harvard fired its fencing coach, citing conflict of interest issues. The coach sold his home in Needham at a hefty markup to the parents of a student who subsequently joined the fencing team. The parents later sold the house at a big loss. (Boston Globe)

Generally, public school systems are less white than the communities they serve, but usually only by a few percentage points. It’s a reflection of white flight to private schools. In some school systems, however, the demographic gap is quite large. Governing ranked those counties with the largest discrepancies; Suffolk County ranked sixteenth.


Attorney General Maura Healey voiced her defense of the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, hours before the U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments over the law’s constitutionality. (Boston Herald) 

Southcoast Health has discontinued an adolescent pregnancy prevention program due to financial constraints, according to Public Information Officer Maureen Boyle. (Standard Times) 


Red Line ridership continues to lag after June 11 derailment, although it has bounced back more quickly on the Braintree branch. (CommonWealth)

Lyft and Garrett Harker, the owner of three restaurants, team up to provide subsidized rides to employees who leave work between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when T service is largely nonexistent. (Boston Globe)

The Metro West Regional Transit Authority unveils an app that will let commuter rail riders notify connecting shuttles when their train is running late. (Metrowest Daily News)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial analyzes the pros and cons of regional ballot initiatives top support transportation from a western Massachusetts perspective. One nit: The editorial calls them regional bus initiatives.

It doesn’t sound like much of a trend, but two companies have provided some funding for the MBTA as part of their development projects. (Boston Globe)

With the goals of improving traffic flow for bus travelers and creating ample sidewalk space, the city of Boston is embarking on plans to redesign Blue Hill Avenue from Mattapan Square to near Grove Hall. (WGBH)


Add Quabbin Park in Belchertown to the list of state-owned properties where controlled deer hunts will be held. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Botanist Matthew Charpentier of Lunenburg finds Carolina Club Moss in two places in central Massachusetts. The moss hadn’t been seen in more than 40 years and was believed to be extinct. (Telegram & Gazette)


The state Board of Bar Overseers accuses three former prosecutors of misconduct in Amherst drug lab scandal. (Boston Globe)

The Supreme Judicial Court is asking attorneys and organizations to weigh in on the constitutionality of the use of the automatic license plate reading cameras on the Sagamore and Bourne bridges. Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said he is “very confident” that his office will prevail on the issue of fixed-position cameras, arguing that the cameras are not tracking a driver’s every movement, just when a car enters or leaves the Cape. (Cape Cod Times) 

Mathew Borges was sentenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility in 30 years, the maximum allowable, for beheading a Lawrence High School classmate. (Eagle-Tribune)

Columbia Gas will establish a scholarship in the name of Leonel Rondon and pay an undisclosed sum in a legal settlement with the family of the 18-year-old killed by a natural gas explosion in Lawrence last September. (Salem News)

An investigation by the Norfolk County district attorney’s office has determined that Cohasset police were justified in their use of force during an altercation last December that left 25-year-old Erich Stelzer dead after he was shocked with stun guns. (Patriot Ledger) 

A Boston Globe editorial praises Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins for delivering on her campaign promises to not prosecute lesser crimes, but urges her to develop a thicker skin in the face of criticism.