WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday put on hold the Trump administration's plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form sent to every household, saying it had provided a "contrived" reason for wanting the information.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the splintered opinion in the case, Department of Commerce v. New York. In a section the court's liberals agreed with, he said the Commerce Department must provide a clearer explanation.
Agencies must offer "genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public," Roberts wrote. "Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case."
Roberts said a district judge was right to send the issue back to the Commerce Department for a better explanation.
Whether the department has time to come up with such an explanation and get judicial approval is unclear. The administration has said a decision was needed by the end of June to add such a question; other officials have said there is a fall deadline.
After Thursday's ruling was announced, President Donald Trump tweeted that he is inquiring as to whether the census may be delayed until the Supreme Court receives the necessary information to make a final decision on the matter.
"Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able (to) ask whether or not someone is a Citizen," Trump's tweet says. "Only in America!"
Those who challenged the citizenship question have said its addition to the form would result in an undercount of millions of people who fear acknowledging that a noncitizen is part of their household.
Roberts' bottom line — that a lower court was right to say Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had not provided an adequate explanation for adding the question — was joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the Trump administration's inclusion of a citizenship question was well within the federal agency's discretion. The court, he wrote, had overstepped its role by digging into the rationale for the decision with "suspicion and distrust."
"For the first time ever, the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency's otherwise adequate rationale," wrote Thomas, who was joined by fellow conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Justice Samuel Alito added, "To put the point bluntly, the Federal Judiciary has no authority to stick its nose into the question of 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."
Groups who had opposed adding the question were pleased but cautious.
"On the census, the Trump administration's lies went so far that even this Supreme Court had to say no," said Michael Waldman, president of the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. "If this leads to a result with no citizenship question, that would be a very welcome outcome, and it would also preserve the status quo. This should have been an easy case, and in the end, it was."
A string of lower courts found that Ross violated federal law and regulations in attempting to include the question on the census. They rebutted his claim that the information was first requested by the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and noted his consultations with immigration hard-liners in the White House beforehand.
What happens next was not immediately clear because the department had said it must know by the summer whether the question can be added.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said there is not enough time for the administration to try to come up with a new rationale for the question.
"If they try to do this over the weekend, it's a sign of cutting corners and not reasoned decision-making," Ho said. "There really is not time. If the administration tries to rush it, that's clearly a red flag."
DOJ spokeswoman Kelly Laco called the decision a disappointment but said in an email after the ruling that the government "will continue to defend this administration's lawful exercises of executive power."
The case was the most debated Trump administration initiative to reach the high court since last year's 5-4 decision upholding the president's ban on certain travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries.
There was even more at stake here, and the debate was filled with partisan politics: An undercount estimated by census officials of more than 8 million people wouldmost affect states and urban areas with large Hispanic and immigrant populations, places that tend to vote for Democrats.
The decennial count of the nation's population determines the size of each state's congressional delegation, the number of votes it receives in the Electoral College and how the federal government allocates hundreds of billions of dollars.
Challengers included Democrat-led states and civil rights and immigrant rights organizations.
The lower courts have said Ross violated administrative law and the enumeration clause of the Constitution by proposing to ask the citizenship question of each household. Those are the issues that were at stake at the Supreme Court.
But discoveries in the case since the court heard oral arguments in the spring raised new issues.
Judges in Maryland and New York said they would consider new allegations regarding the claim that Ross' action violated equal protection guarantees and was part of a conspiracy to drive down the count of minorities.
The information came from the files of a deceased Republican political operative. Thomas Hofeller, who had been in touch with some census officials at the start of the Trump administration, wrote a memo that said adding the question might help Republicans and white voters in subsequent redistricting decisions based on the census data.
MIAMI (AP) — Democratic divisions over race, age and ideology surged into public view in Thursday night's presidential debate, a prime-time clash punctuated by a heated exchange between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
It was one of several moments that left the 76-year-old Biden, who entered the night as his party's fragile front-runner, on the defensive as he worked to convince voters across America that he's still in touch with the Democratic Party of 2020 — and is best-positioned to deny President Donald Trump a second term.
"I do not believe you are a racist," Harris said to Biden, although she described his record of working with Democratic segregationist senators as "hurtful."
Biden called Harris' criticism "a complete mischaracterization of my record." He declared, "I ran because of civil rights," and later accused the Trump administration of embracing racism.
The California senator also challenged Biden's stance on busing to desegregate public schools during the 1970s. Harris, who is black, was part of a busing program as a child, and her pointed questioning of Biden was one of the night's breakout moments.
"You also worked with them to oppose busing," she said. "And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me."
Biden said he did not oppose busing but believed that it was an issue that should be handled by the states rather than the federal government.
The debate marked an abrupt turning point in a Democratic primary in which candidates have largely tiptoed around one another, focusing instead on their shared desire to defeat Trump. But the debate revealed just how deep the fissures are within the Democratic Party eight months before primary voting begins.
Thursday's debate, like the one a night earlier, gave millions of Americans their first peek inside the Democrats' unruly 2020 season.
The showdown featured four of the five strongest candidates — according to early polls, at least. Those are Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; and Harris. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who debated Wednesday night, is the fifth.
There are so many candidates lining up to take on Trump that they do not all fit on one debate stage — or even two. Twenty Democrats debated on national television this week in two waves of 10, while a handful more were left out altogether.
The level of diversity on display was unprecedented for a major political party in the United States. The field features six women, two African Americans, one Asian American and two men under 40, one of them openly gay.
Yet in the early days of the campaign, two white septuagenarians have led the polls: Biden and Sanders.
Buttigieg, a 37-year-old gay former military officer, is four decades younger than Sanders and has been framing his candidacy as a call for generational change in his party. Harris is the only African American woman to qualify for the presidential debate stage. Any of the three women featured Thursday night would be the first ever elected president.
Buttigieg faced tough questions about a recent police shooting in his city in which a white officer shot and killed a black man, Eric Logan.
Buttigieg said an investigation was underway, and he acknowledged the underlying racial tensions in his city and others.
"It's a mess," he said plainly. "And we're hurting."
One of the lesser-known candidates on stage, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, called on Buttigieg to fire his police chief, even though the investigation was only beginning.
Swalwell also took a swipe at Biden's advanced age. Either Biden or Sanders would be the oldest president ever elected.
"Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago," Swalwell jabbed.
Biden responded: "I'm still holding on to that torch."
The party's broader fight over ideology at times took a back seat to the racial and generational divisions. But calls to embrace dramatic change on immigration, health care and the environment were not forgotten.
Sanders slapped at his party's centrist candidates, vowing to fight for "real change."
Biden downplayed his establishment leanings. For example, the former vice president, along with the other candidates on stage, raised his hand to say his health care plan would provide coverage for immigrants in the country illegally.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper predicted that an aggressive lurch to the left on key policies would ultimately hurt Democrats' quest to defeat Trump.
"If we don't clearly define we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists," he warned.
Others on the stage Thursday night included Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, New York businessman Andrew Yang and author and social activist Marianne Williamson.
The showdown played out in Florida, a general election battleground that could well determine whether Trump wins a second term next year.
Biden sought to sidestep the intraparty divisions altogether, training his venom on Trump.
"Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America. Ordinary middle-class Americans built America," the former vice president said. He added: "Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation. We do have enormous income inequality."
Biden's strategy is designed to highlight his status as the front-runner, and as such, the Democrat best positioned to take down the president at the ballot box. Above any policy disagreement, Democratic voters report that nothing matters more than finding a candidate who can beat Trump.
Their first round of debates is finished, but the real struggle is just beginning for most of the candidates.
All will work aggressively to leverage their debate performance and the related media attention to their advantage in the coming days. There is a real sense of urgency for more than a dozen candidates who fear that they may not reach donor and polling thresholds to qualify for subsequent debates.
Should they fail to qualify, and many will fail, this week's debates may have marked the high point for their personal presidential ambitions.
When tragedy strikes, schools often face a tough dilemma: how to honor students who are mourned and missed without glorifying death or extending the grieving process.
After four teenagers died last week in a one-car crash, the Gretna Public Schools district is trying to find that delicate balance.
Student-made memorials have cropped up in the parking lot at Gretna High School, where the four girls had just finished their sophomore year. They were Abby Barth, 16, Alex Minardi, 15, Kloe Odermatt, 16, and Addisyn Pfeifer, 16. A fifth girl, Roan Brandon, 15, survived the crash with serious burns.
Alex Minardi’s car is still parked at the school, the windshield covered in drooping bouquets of carnations and roses and a beaded friendship bracelet. Next to her car, a group of about 20 students spent hours in the hot sun painting the asphalt in shades of green, blue, pink, orange and yellow, with the names and nicknames of their four friends drawn in flowing black script.
A fifth part of the display is dedicated to Roan Brandon, the lone survivor. It references a Bible verse, Revelation 21:4.
Morgan Ehlert, who will be a junior, practiced and practiced to get the lettering just right. She and other Gretna High students spent about a week creating the tributes to their five classmates and friends, swapping stories and memories the whole time. The parking lot holds special meaning: the girls and their friends spent countless hours hanging out there, throwing volleyballs or just goofing around.
“Bringing everyone together and doing something to remember them helps us grieve and memorialize them,” Morgan said.
The group planned for permanence, settling on brightly colored patio paint, with a sealant placed on top.
“We’ve done a million layers,” said Chloe Serfass, another friend and incoming junior who worked on the memorials. “We’ve gotten in the cracks of the concrete and everything. We want it to stay.”
The two said they hope the memorials can stay long enough so Roan Brandon can visit once she leaves the hospital.
Gretna school officials have cautioned that at some point the memorials will have be removed.
The reasons are both practical and philosophical: Portions of the high school parking lot are typically repaved and restriped each summer. And school policy and child mental health experts frown on highly public memorials dedicated to students or staff who have died.
“At one point we have to move out of the grieving process,” Gretna Superintendent Kevin Riley said. “That’s what’s healthiest for our kids.”
Schools have long struggled to strike the right tone between paying tribute to students who have died and drawing too much attention to tragedy. In districts like Millard, Lincoln and Waverly, controversies have risen over memorial T-shirts, empty chairs at graduation ceremonies and yearbook tributes.
Gretna’s own board policy said memorial plaques, busts or photos naming and commemorating a student, staffer or community member will not be allowed on school buildings or grounds. Riley said the district is already talking to students and the girls’ families about finding other ways to honor the four girls, which could involve scholarships, planting trees or installing a memorial bench.
Connie J. Schnoes, a pediatric psychologist at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, said public memorials are not the only — or the healthiest — way to mourn.
“Today, kids are very public, social media, Facebook, everything goes to the world,” she said. “Everything doesn’t need to be public.”
She said the message is that only if you’re important enough and have many friends are you going to have one of these. “It also makes me get concerned from a different standpoint, that if I don’t feel important now and I die, maybe then I’ll feel important.”
For children and teens, she recommends that they attend funeral or celebration-of-life ceremonies for closure and keep scrapbooks to remember the friend, relative or parent they lost.
Dr. David J. Schonfeld is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, which offers advice at grievingstudents.org. He’s trained staff at the 9/11 Memorial and worked with schools who have lost students to school shootings.
He usually discourages spontaneous memorials. Schools should take time to collaborate with students, staff and families, he said. “It’s the planning that’s therapeutic, it’s not what you do.”
Tonja Minardi, the mother of Alex Minardi, is touched by the parking lot memorials. She dropped off pizza and cookies while the kids were working on it. Part of her wishes the memorials could stay at least until 2021, when the four girls would have graduated.
But she said she trusts Riley and the school board to make the right decision.
She hasn’t given much thought to a more permanent memorial but likes the idea of something — maybe a tree in a median near the parking lot where her daughter spent so many hours after school.
“We’ll figure out something, and I hope it’s something the kids like,” Minardi said. “Her friends were such a huge part of her life. I don’t want to take that away from them, either.”
Claude hates the telephone, which is why it shocked his wife Nadine when he started picking it up this winter and dialing every night.
When an aging man answered, Claude always started the conversation the same way.
Hi, this is Claude Frerichs. I don’t know if you remember me, I was in Platoon 3026 ...
A few times, the call ended abruptly. “That damn Vietnam War experience, I don’t want to think about it, don’t call me again,” Claude says, re-enacting how three or four calls went.
But dozens of times, the voice on the other end said, “Well sure. Hi, Claude!”
That’s when Claude would tell a fellow Marine, a fellow veteran of Platoon 3026, about the first-ever reunion of their one-of-a-kind platoon. He gave them the details on the reunion for a group of 75 Nebraska boys who battled through boot camp, went their separate ways into the teeth of the Vietnam War and then lost nearly all contact with one another for a half-century.
Once the details were out of the way, Claude and the aging man on the other end of the line would talk.
Sometimes for 10 minutes. Or 20 minutes. Or an hour. They would talk like old friends even though they hadn’t spoken in 51 years.
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“You have to understand ... this guy doesn’t use the phone,” Nadine told me last week, shaking her head at her husband.
“My wife has accused me of becoming a chatterbox,” Claude replies, smiling at her.
There is most assuredly going to be some chattering at an Omaha-area hotel Sunday night at the reunion of Platoon 3026. They are bound by Vietnam-era history, a plan hatched by Marine leaders to stand up an all-Nebraskan platoon and send them to boot camp together. They are bound by their shared experience in boot camp and what happened after — almost 75 separate deployments to Vietnam, where the war raged during their first few months in it. And they are bound by what happened after their deployments ended.
All but one of them survived, but not without scars.
Most moved back to Nebraska before scattering across the country, getting married, having children, working, retiring, playing with grandkids.
And most of them — men who became CEOs, men who became doctors and men who became homeless — seem to have buried the experiences of 1968 deep in their bellies. It’s the sort of stuff, the good, the bad and the ugly, that they really want to talk about only with the other men in Platoon 3026.
They also want to catch up on the 51 years that have passed since they were fresh-faced 18-year-olds. They want to make up for some serious lost time.
“I feel like a kid waiting for company to come to his 10th birthday party,” said Tom Bizzarri Sr. of Omaha, who until recently had spoken to only two or three of his fellow platoon mates since 1968.
A half-century of silence would have been hard to imagine on June 23, 1968, the day they stood together in white shirts and skinny black ties in front of the Nebraska State Capitol.
Nine had enlisted from Omaha South High School. Two were from tiny Clarks, Nebraska. They also hailed from Lincoln, Albion, Coleridge, Lyons, Tekamah, Weeping Water and too many other towns and map dots to mention.
Gov. Norbert Tiemann, a World War II veteran, spoke. Their family and friends cheered and cried. Miss Nebraska 1967 gave out some hugs.
They raised their right arms and pledged to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And then, just like that, they were on a bus, and then a plane, and then getting their heads shaved and getting screamed at by a drill instructor at San Diego’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Most of the stories about the 10 weeks of boot camp I heard from members of Platoon 3026 are unprintable in these pages because they require either too much explanation or too many curse words.
But the bond they forged in boot camp is worth discussing. They weren’t friends, exactly. You might have known absolutely nothing about the life of the young Nebraska Marine standing next to you, Bizzarri said.
But they did work together. They did win multiple platoon competitions, drawing the ire and fire of other platoons who couldn’t beat the Cornhuskers.
“You are always looking out for each other,” Bizzarri said. “You don’t want each other to make a mistake. You are just so focused on the task at hand.”
And then they went to infantry training. The Nebraskans were split up. Many never saw one another again.
By Christmas 1968, almost all of them found their way separately into Vietnam, where the war raged. Many of the Nebraska Marines ended up serving in air mobile assault units, which made up 20% of the service members in Vietnam but took roughly 80% of the casualties, Frerichs said.
Others worked in reconnaissance, fighting deep behind enemy lines. Others fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war. At least one joined the CIA.
Many received Purple Hearts, which they generally said nothing about. One member of the all-Nebraska platoon, Omahan Paul Bazar, paid the ultimate price.
He was born on Christmas Day 1949. He died on April 21, 1969, at age 19.
Everyone else came home, reentering the U.S. during a period of increasing anti-war furor.
A lot of the Nebrakans went to college through the GI Bill. They lost track of their all-Nebraska platoon past. They moved on, best as they could.
Two years ago, Frerichs, now a retired pharmacist in Lincoln, attended the funeral of John Tucker, a fellow member of the platoon. He thought: We need to get these guys back together. We need to do it before it’s too late.
“We thought if we could get 10 guys together, that would be a success,” he said.
So he picked up the phone. He started Googling names, phone numbers. He tracked down ex-wives, children and finally the Marines he was searching for.
He enlisted other eastern Nebraska Marines from the platoon, putting them on planning committees.
And, eventually, Claude got hold of 43 of the platoon’s 75 members. He talked to some of them for 20 minutes, and some for an hour. Which is how he knows that one became a doctor, and another a firefighter. One worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 30 years, and another owned a fur trading company in Wyoming.
They live as far west as Oregon and Montana and as far east as Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Several are retired police officers, several are retired military officers and several are retired teachers.
As far as Claude can tell, 14 of the platoon’s 75 members have died. As far as Claude can tell, at least 20 are coming to this weekend’s reunion.
“You would not believe the success stories out of these guys,” he tells me. “You would not believe the stories I have heard.”
He pauses and thinks about the upcoming reunion.
“We’re gonna have some stories to tell on Sunday night.”