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U.S. Supreme Court blocks 2020 census citizenship question in case Colorado joined

The court says the Trump administration's explanation for wanting to add the question was "more of a distraction" than an explanation

The U.S. Supreme Court is forbidding President Donald Trump’s administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census — for now.

The ruling is a victory for Colorado and other states that sued to block the question from being on next year’s survey.

The court says the Trump administration’s explanation for wanting to add the question was “more of a distraction” than an explanation.

MORE: As rural Colorado fears being overlooked in 2020 census, some question spending money on outreach

It’s unclear whether the administration would have time to provide a fuller account. Census forms are supposed to be printed beginning next week.

The court ruled 5-4 on Thursday, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberals in the relevant part of the outcome.

A lower court found the administration violated federal law in the way it tried to add a question broadly asking about citizenship for the first time since 1950.

The Census Bureau’s own experts have predicted that millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted if the census asked everyone if he or she is an American citizen.

“This decision is a victory for our nation and for Colorado since the census will have a direct impact on our state’s representation in Congress and our fair share of federal dollars for transportation, healthcare, education, public safety, and many public assistance programs,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, said in a written statement. “It is now our responsibility to educate the public about the importance of an accurate count, and we must redouble our efforts to ensure that every person is counted in Colorado.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, speaks at a news conference in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called the ruling “step in the right direction to ensure that everyone is counted as accurately and as free from intimidation as possible.”

Also on Thursday, conservative justices on the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts have no role to play in the dispute over the practice known as partisan gerrymandering. The decision could embolden political line-drawing for partisan gain when state lawmakers undertake the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.

Voters and elected officials should be the arbiters of what is a political dispute, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court.

The court rejected challenges to Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a Democratic district in Maryland.

The decision was a major blow to critics of the partisan manipulation of electoral maps that can result when one party controls redistricting.

The districting plans “are highly partisan by any measure,” Roberts said. But he said courts are the wrong place to settle these disputes.

In dissent for the four liberals, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.” Kagan, in mournful tones, read a summary of her dissent in court to emphasize her disagreement.

Federal courts in five states concluded that redistricting plans put in place under one party’s control could go too far and that there were ways to identify and manage excessively partisan districts. Those courts included 15 federal judges appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents reaching back to Jimmy Carter.

But the five Republican-appointed justices decided otherwise.

The decision effectively reverses the outcome of rulings in Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, where courts had ordered new maps drawn, and ends proceedings in Wisconsin, where a retrial was supposed to take place this summer after the Supreme Court last year threw out a decision on procedural grounds.

Proponents of limiting partisan gerrymandering still have several routes open to them, including challenges in state courts. There is a pending North Carolina lawsuit.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

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