WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court is due to issue eagerly awaited decisions on Thursday in cases on the Trump administration’s attempt to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 census and bids by voters to stem the partisan manipulation of electoral district boundaries, a practice called gerrymandering.
The court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, has five cases remaining to decide during its current term, which began in October and ends on Thursday, with the rulings set for 10 a.m. (1400 GMT).
The political consequences arising from the rulings in legal challenges to the census question and partisan gerrymandering could be significant, leaving lasting effects on elections for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures at a time of political polarization in America.
Opponents have called the move by President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department to add a citizenship question to the census a Republican maneuver to deter immigrants from taking part in the decennial population count out of fear of deportation. The intent, these critics have said, is to manufacture a deliberate undercount of areas with high immigrant and Latino populations, costing Democratic-leaning regions seats in the House, benefiting Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.
In April’s argument in the case, the court’s conservative justices appeared to be inclined to rule in Trump’s favor.
A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question. Evidence that surfaced in May bolstered their claim that the citizenship question was aimed at furthering Republican Party political goals.
Documents created by Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, showed that he was instrumental behind the scenes in instigating the addition of the citizenship question. He was an expert in drawing electoral district boundaries that maximize Republican chances of winning congressional elections.
Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that asking census respondents whether they are American citizens “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redrawing electoral districts based on census data.
The Trump administration has said it planned to add the question to gather better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination. Hofeller suggested that rationale in the newly disclosed documents. The challengers have said that rationale is a merely pretext to hide a political motive.
GERRYMANDERING IN SPOTLIGHT
Separate cases from North Carolina and Maryland focus on whether the justices will empower courts to impose restrictions on partisan gerrymandering, the practice in which electoral districts are devised to magnify the political power of the party already in control of a state’s legislature.
The geographical boundaries of House districts and those in state legislatures are reconfigured every decade to reflect population changes determined by the census. During arguments in March, conservative justices indicated skepticism toward permitting judicial intervention to curb gerrymandering.
In two other cases, the court is due to rule on Thursday on whether police need a court-issued warrant to draw an unconscious suspect’s blood and on whether to greatly expand the area considered as part of a Native American reservation in Oklahoma.
The court on Friday could announce whether it will take up various pending appeals including the Trump administration’s bid to salvage the Republican president’s attempt to end a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants dubbed “Dreamers” who were brought illegally into the United States as children. The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was launched in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
For a graphic on major Supreme Court rulings, click tmsnrt.rs/2V2T0Uf