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White nationalism lost in federal court yesterday.
Judge Jesse Furman blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to add a question to the 2020 census asking about citizenship status. Furman “found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal law by misleading the public — and his own department — about the reasons for adding the question,” Dara Lind of Vox writes.
Ross claimed, laughably, that the citizenship question would help the Trump administration enforce voting rights. In truth, it was designed to intimidate Latinos — both legal and illegal — into not responding to the census. The resulting undercount would then reduce the political representation of immigrant-heavy regions and cause them to receive less federal funding.
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The citizenship question, Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post, is part of “a broader effort on the part of Republicans to put a thumb on the electoral scale in every way they possibly can, whether it’s extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression efforts targeted at minorities, or the use of the census to make Republican victories just that much more likely.”
Yesterday’s ruling isn’t the final word. The Trump administration will likely appeal, and the appeal will likely reach the Supreme Court, where Republican-appointed justices hold a five-to-four majority.
But there is some reason to hope the justices will avoid an obviously partisan decision. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the two newest conservative justices, have previously taken a dim view of federal officials who exceed limits on their power, The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson explains. “While it’s always possible that the Court’s conservatives will vote ideology over principle … their particular judicial philosophies do not bode well for the Trump administration’s brazen defiance of administrative law,” Michaelson writes.
A side note: Given the combination of his census exploits, his lies about those exploits and his shady stock trades, Ross may now deserve consideration if my colleague Gail Collins revisits her analysis of the worst Trump Cabinet member. His case is helped by the fact that some of his even more corrupt colleagues have recently departed the administration.
William Barr’s answers about the Russia investigation weren’t great. Barr — the nominee for U.S. attorney general — told senators yesterday that he would not necessarily recuse himself from a case even if ethics officials found him to have a conflict of interest. And Barr refused to commit to a public release of Robert Mueller’s findings.
Yet I was still more encouraged than alarmed by yesterday’s confirmation hearing. At this point, I have extremely low expectations for Cabinet officials selected by President Trump. Barr beat these expectations by saying he would allow Mueller to finish his investigation of Trump. He also came off as substantially more competent and professional than much of the Trump team.
And once Mueller does finish his investigation, I think it’s unlikely that his findings will remain secret, regardless of what Barr tries to do. Mueller is a savvy political operator who understands how to use court filings and other means to inform the public of his work. Now that Democrats hold the House, they will also be able to help prevent the findings from remaining secret.
“The idea an unclassified Mueller report won’t end up at least de facto public strikes me as totally ridiculous,” tweeted the Georgetown political scientist Matt Glassman yesterday. “To sit on this thing would be almost instantly unsustainable politically.”
The crucial thing at this point is that Mueller be able to continue his work unimpeded. Given Barr’s past criticism of the investigation — which Andrew Cohen of the Brennan Center for Justice explains in Slate — he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. But his remarks yesterday were somewhat better than I had feared.
The Brexit mess
A quick word on the big parliamentary defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan: Both the cancel-Brexit crowd and the Brexit-without-conditions crowd are feeling hopeful that they can prevail. This confidence has meant neither side has been willing to support May’s more moderate — but still radical — version of Brexit.
Britain’s political leaders are now sharply divided among these three broad camps, and none of them has a majority in Parliament. The next steps are uncertain. Any of the three sides could still prevail. If the Brexit-without-conditions side does, Britain could be in for a lot of pain.
(And, yes, today’s newsletter is unusually long, because yesterday was unusually newsy.)
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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt • Facebook
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